Bike Wise Challenge 2011: How it compares to Challenge for Change.

Maybe the challenge should be made to councils...

A few weeks back, I posted on Challenge for Change, an organization run partly out of Wellington for the benefit of cyclists and aspiring-cyclists-who-don’t-yet-know-it, and the towns where they live, in England.  Their successful bike-to-work incentive model has claimed contracts with over 20 towns and major cities in England.

At the close of my post, I wrote that I would follow up with additional information about New Zealand’s Bike Wise Challenge, the model originally initiated by the current Managing Director, Thomas Stockell, of Challenge for Change.  In particular, I hoped to learn (and to share) the high water marks achieved by the NZ program and the money spent to raise the tide, especially in light of the success Tom Stockell has found in the export of the original idea.

The New Zealand Transport Agency responded to requests for information today and shared the following:

Back in 2005 Land Transport NZ had a contract with the Health Sponsorship Council (HSC) to deliver a range of walking cycling initiatives including Bike Wise. As part of that contract the Bike Wise Challenge site was developed by the HSC, by Thomas who was employed by HSC at the time and was responsible for managing this component.

In 2007 the HSC chose to move out of the transport space and handed full ownership and implementation of Bike Wise to Land Transport NZ.  Ministry of Health has been a partner with NZTA and its predecessors for at least six years.

In 2008 the NZ Transport Agency was formed (from Land Transport NZ and Transit NZ) and we continued to run Bike Wise using two websites – the Bike Wise Challenge website and a general Bike Wise website.

In 2009 we reviewed our customer experience and decided that having two websites could be confusing for the public. We decided we needed to have a one-stop shop website that would cover all our general information yet have the Challenge functionality.

The NZTA went out to tender for a provider (as government policy dictates) and a new provider was chosen to deliver the new one-stop shop site.

Bike Wise Month 2011

Bike Wise Month is bigger than just the Challenge. 2011 was the third year in which Bike Wise Month expanded from a week to a month. We also encourage regions to host Go By Bike Day events and Mayoral Challenges. This year 340 events were held throughout the country.

The 2011 Bike Wise Programme was guided by the vision that “all New Zealanders enjoy a culture and environment that positively encourages and support cycling in New Zealand for enjoyment and transport”.  The 2010/2011 Bike Wise programme cost $512,917, this includes staff time and all parts of the Bike Wise programme.

Challenge 2011

In total 5,541 employees from 419 workplaces and 1,066 departments competed in the Challenge.  They logged a total of 813,715 kilometres and saved a total of 196,105 kilograms of CO2.

Based on the numbers provided by NZTA, it appears that NZ’s Bike Wise program is operated at a cost of approximately $93 per participant-rider.  NZTA has clarified that the cost per rider should be much lower when taking into account the advertising, website, marketing and support provided to local councils for the additional events that take place during Bike Wise month.  As NZTA notes, the 2010/2011 budget includes the cost of to “encourage regions to host” other complementary bicycle events during the month-long challenge.  NZTA explained that while local councils fund these events, the Bike Wise budget provides food vouchers to cover the Go By Bike breakfast costs, coordination kits, and spot prizes for participants that include a bicycle, helmet, lights, jerseys and other resources.  With an estimated 13,470 participants in ALL of the Bike Wise month events, NZTA calculates its per participant cost at $14.

Comparing the NZTA budget to the costs associated with the Challenge for Change program in the UK may be like comparing apples to oranges.  Despite the similarity of the programs, differences in population size, extant bike infrastructure and the number of potential businesses and organizations to participate may distinguish the implementation of the two programs. For example, a benefit that immediately accrued to the folks at Challenge for Change was the presence of several Cycle Demonstration towns, which meant that some localities were already pushing cycle initiatives in their regions.  Similarly, while the cost of a contract with Challenge for Change for a town of approximately 300,000 is 36,000 GBP, this doesn’t take into account the town’s expenditures for contract administration. After converting the NZTA budget for the Bike Wise Challenge into pounds, its expenditure (including all staff time) would only cover 6.8 towns, whereas the NZTA budget covered all regions of New Zealand.  Granted, Challenge for Change reduces its contract costs for smaller towns and completes some follow-up research after the completion of the month-long challenge.

Whether the program is privately-managed for the public benefit or administered through a government agency, the greatest value of these cycle commuter challenges is the dividends they pay to the entire community.  The net result, whatever the expenditure, is manifold: people get on their bikes.  As a result of that small act, riders burn calories, roadway traffic is reduced and less carbon dioxide is released into our environment.  Thus, it seems like the government is wise to continue the program but it may want to consider a few lessons that become apparent in the comparison between these two programs.

Looking through the numbers on the Bike Wise Challenge results page,  the participation of non-new riders is paltry.  In Wellington, there was not a single new rider recorded in the Challenge.**  It’s understandable that new riders wouldn’t outnumber their habitually riding colleagues, but part of brilliance of the Challenge’s model is its success in converting new riders to occasional or even frequent riders.  To forsake this element of the incentive program is to stumble over the first obstacle to increasing ridership.  As ridership increases, the community expands and more new riders will become attracted to the activity.  This may be why Challenge for Change was at such an advantage (and so strategically wise) to seek contracts in those English towns with cycle initiatives already in place.  If NZTA is similarly wise, it will spend more time on its ‘local encouragement’ efforts to increase rider participation, thus spreading its budget among a greater swath of the population.

It also tells a story about the role that local governments need to play in the push to create more sustainable transport options. Changes to the cycling infrastructure promoted by local councils demonstrates to the rest of the community (like it or not) the value of the activity. If the NZ challenge information has an instructive fable to share, I think it’s the need to challenge our local regions as much as we challenge ourselves to create a cycling community.

Quickly, if you’re interested, the Rotorua District Council did a tolerably good job of recruiting new riders and covering some decent ground.  NIWA logged an impressive 19,591 kilometers among its riders.  In the Wellington/Wairarapa regions, the Green Party, Herriot Melhuish Architecture Ltd, and Opaki School all busted some good moves on their bikes.  The overall winner in the Wellington region was Spark Productions.  GNS Science recorded an impressive 15,435 kilometers with 989 rides and 20% staff participation.  But really, I will still shake my finger a little: shouldn’t we have been a bit more impressive?  Next year?

Maybe we all agree to chart our rides when the summer rolls around, just to prove to ourselves how far we’ve come.  Just a thought.

** NZTA responded to my question about new riders and disclosed that the new rider definition may be flawed.  In signing up for the Challenge, the site asks riders if they have been on a bike in the last year.  If they answer ‘no,’ then they are considered new riders.  Bike Wise will be reviewing its definition before next year’s event.

EDIT: In the original posting of this article, I stated that the cost per participant of New Zealand’s Bike Wise Challenge was approximately $93 based on the budget and number of participants of the Bike Wise Challenge. After posting, the NZTA provided additional information to explain its expenditures.  I updated the post to clarify the manner in which Bike Wise budget is used for the other complementary events that occur during the month of Bike Wise, thus reducing the per participant cost.


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