Friday, 27 March 2015

“Boris” bikes for Brighton & Hove

After a false start a couple of years back, Brighton and Hove is now going to get a bike hire scheme, according to these reports in the Argus and in the Brighton and Hove News. Great stuff.  Not just because it means those of us who live, work, play and visit Brighton and Hove will be able to get around in a way that’s more easy, less polluting, keeps us fit and avoids the security problems of using your own bike (Brighton is very popular with bike thieves). Worth noting is the comment from Brighton and Hove City Council, which said, “Around 46% of households in the scheme area do not own a car. Yet research has shown a main reason people do not cycle is that they do not own a bike – about half of households do not have one.”  And, looking at things as a behavioural economist, the sight of all those bike hire stations is a major visual prime – it sends a message along the lines of  “here’s another way to get around, another transport option when you need to get from A to B. Now you don’t have to own a bike in order to get on a bike.” Not only that, but bike hire is consistent with the sharing economy that is becoming a major sector in its own right – a self-guided, self-propelled two wheeled version of Uber. 

Which brings us to the major question: what are we going to call our bike hire bikes? Barclays, who sponsored the original bike hire scheme in London, were no doubt less than chuffed with the two wheelers becoming universally known as ‘Boris Bikes.’  Which might be why a major Spanish bank has now assumed the mantle of sponsorship. But I can’t see ‘Santander bikes’ catching on. Bizarrely, it wasn’t even Boris who came up with the idea – he just got lucky by being Mayor of London when the scheme of his predecessor Ken Livingstone went live. So maybe they will just be known in our fair city as  ‘Brighton Bikes.’ After all, we don’t have a mayor. And it seems unlikely that they will be named after the Leader of the Green administration. ‘Kitcat Bikes’? Sorry Jason, it isn’t going to happen.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Just go for a walk. Go on. Just. Go. For. A. Walk.

That’s what the House of Commons Select Committee on Health have told GPs that they should be telling their patients, according to this report in the Telegraph. Because we are the some of the world’s most lazy people when it comes to physical activity. And because walking is good for health (who needs a gym?). And because practically anyone can do it. And because it’s free. And because you don’t need any special equipment. And because it’s good for the mind. And because you can start now, practically wherever you are. And because the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NIce) has said workers should be encouraged to stand up during meetings, and advised to walk or cycle to events outside their workplace. And because. And because. (Repeat ad infinitum).

Monday, 2 March 2015

Twenty Carfree Years – More Gain than Pain

If there’s any significance to anniversaries, then last weekend marked a biggie for me. Because it was 20 years ago that I gave up owning a car: it happened on 28th February 1995. On that day I drove up to Liverpool in my company car. I was there to attend the funeral of a young woman who was not just a colleague but also a friend. After the funeral I drove the car to the garage of the company’s fleet manager, handed in the keys, and left it there. I haven’t owned a car since.

Why did I give up the car? The timing of the funeral was accidental in that the lease on the car just happened come to an end at the same time. But there was also a need to do something positive on a sad day. I could have taken the line of least resistance - with my (then) pay package I could have replaced the car with something swish and probably German. But rather than drive out of the garage in a new Beamer, I had done the maths, had a long think and made the choice to give up on owning a car. I went home on the tube....and thus began my carfree  life.

Of course, ‘carfree’ is a bit of a misnomer. There is no car permanently in our household, but our life is not devoid of cars - for a start, we often use taxis. And sometimes a car is the best way to get from A to B. So we sometimes hire a car from City Car Club or, for longer trips, from one of the national car rental chains. 

Sometimes a car is the only way to go - if you're in Tasmania, there is very little public transport, so a hire car is (or was) the only sensible way to get around. And if you need to go from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with some stop-offs along the way, you can’t really do better than point a convertible up Highway One. But, exceptions like these aside, it’s been twenty years since I had to deal with the hassle and expense of being a car owner. 

On reflection, what has been most amazing is just how infrequently I find myself thinking, “A car would be really useful today.” It happens occasionally, but mostly, there is more gain than pain - I’m better off, fitter, thinner and more relaxed than I would be if I still had four wheels parked outside. And that’s before even mentioning the environment. In a nutshell, the lesson from my 20 carfree years (apart from, why don’t more people do it?) goes like this: being able to drive is a useful life skill. You never know when it might come in handy. But that doesn’t mean you have to own a car. After all, when you want a pint of milk, you tend not to go out and buy a cow.