Cycling to work is a great idea, but why should employees even have to pay for it?

Cyclists’ bid to put more bikes on the road has a snag: it wants commuters to pay their employers back for the bikes they give them

BAG also proposes more direct measures at discouraging cars from being used as a means of transport, namely by making it costlier to use a car
BAG also proposes more direct measures at discouraging cars from being used as a means of transport, namely by making it costlier to use a car

Cyclists in Malta get a bad deal: worsening traffic, dangerous driving, and a lack of cycling lanes makes life hard for assiduous pedallers.

But even as the sport grows in popularity and a bicycle-sharing network expands across the island, a budget proposal by the Bicycle Advocacy fails to address the need to put more bikes on the road.

The advocacy group wants employers to buy VAT-free bicycles for their employees. But while BAG claims this proposal is aimed at low-income earners, the proposal has a snag: it wants the employees to pay back the bike.

“This scheme is mainly aimed at low-income earners who cannot afford to buy a good quality bicycle to cycle to work, although it should be accessible to every person in full or part-time employment. The aim of this scheme is to give employees access to a bicycle that they can use to cycle to and from work,” BAG says in its proposal.

But instead of encouraging employers to give employees a free bike as an incentive for an alternative means of transport, it wants the employees to pay the bike back: hardly enticing for low-income earners.

BAG says that minimum wage earners could choose to pay the bike back on instalments of some €39 monthly within a year – assuming the value of the bike is around €474 net of VAT – or some €20 monthly over two years.

Employers get to claim the VAT back. Employees whose income is actually taxable can apply for tax rebates on the bicycle acquisition.

But minimum-wage earners on some €760 a month are also likely to need cars for their families, and would not be interested in a new cost to add upon their monthly instalments on a car, mortgage or rent.

So why not make employers directly responsible for the reduction of cars and give their employees the bicycles for free?

Matthew Farrugia, one of BAG’s spokespersons, insists the scheme is “an affordable option for people who are able and willing to cycle to work”.

“One of the benefits is that employees will have this opportunity without having to make a large purchase at one go… the bicycle would not replace a car, but rather save money on travel costs. The money saved from cycling to work, in terms of fuel and time, could make a real difference.”

Farrugia also claims the health benefits of cycling means employees get sick less often, and that “employers benefit by employees needing less time off for sick leave”, an observation which still does not justify why it should not be employers who bear the full cost of reducing cars on the road.

Indeed, BAG is unable to answer its own question as to what happens when an employee is still paying off the bike when their job is terminated. “Other fine details can be examined at a later stage when the system is discussed with the Malta Employers Association, Chamber of Commerce, trade unions and other employers’ representatives.”

However, BAG also proposes more direct measures at discouraging cars from being used as a means of transport, namely by making it costlier to use a car.

One of them is by installing parking meters in heavily-congested villages like Valletta, Sliema, Mosta and Birkirkara.

“If just 100 parking meters are installed all over Malta and these are in operation from 8am to 7pm – 11 hours – and each hour is charged at 50c, this amounts to €200,750 each year,” BAG says.

Its other proposal is to tax large private cars such as SUVs, since they take up more space than compact and sub-compact vehicles, as well as taxing diesel fuel. “Diesel is one of the worst polluters so it should be taxed to discourage its purchase and consumption.”

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