Updated: "Get off your bikes" Carbon Trust tells staff… "Okay, you can get back on"

Boris bikes may be unsafe and of poor quality, implies internal communication

by Mark Appleton   October 12, 2010  

Carbon Trust logo.gif

In what sounds like the ultimate “Do as I say, not as I do” style message, the tax payer-funded Carbon Trust is discouraging its employees from cycling, well that's how it appeared at least but in a sudden change of heart the Trust has moved swiftly to clarify its position on its employees cycling and using the London Cycle Hire Scheme.

With its mission to “assist business and the public sector achieve carbon and cost savings and deliver new low carbon technologies, companies and products - now and in the future” you might have thought the Trust would have all but banned the use of cars for official business. But no, an internal email leaked to the Copenhagenize blog and picked up by BikeBiz suggests that it’s the use of pedal-power that requires  serious thought:

"For those of you who choose to cycle to work (or for work), you are reminded that you are responsible for ensuring your own safety. As a reminder, the use of appropriate cycling helmets lights and hi-visibility equipment are considered essential, particularly with the nights drawing in.

Fair enough, if a bit nanny state-ish. But wait…

"In addition, if you do not consider yourself a competent cyclist, who has taken appropriate provision for your own safety, we advise against you cycling to and from work and for work related meetings and events and from using the London cycle scheme.

It gets worse…

"If you choose to cycle FOR work (e.g. attending an external meeting) again your safety is your responsibility. However, the Carbon Trust has a duty of care for all of us, and for this reason, the company does not advocate cycling to and from meetings on company business and an alternative method of travel should always be considered.

What!? And here’s the biscuit-taker:

"Expense claims for hiring Boris bikes will not be reimbursed by the company. The reason for this is that the company cannot assess the quality or safety of any Boris bike and it is impractical for it to undertake risk assessments for each individual journey and to provide training and equipment."

We are awaiting responses to our questions from the Carbon Trust, Department of Energy and Climate Change and Transport for London.

UPDATE. The Carbon Trust has issued the following statement to road.cc:

"The Carbon Trust actively encourages staff to take the low carbon option for business travel. As part of this we support cycling and actively encourage our employees to cycle by providing access to cycle safety training, secure cycle storage, cycle maintenance, access to the Cycle To Work Scheme and shower facilities in our office.

The recent email to our staff was sent out of our duty of care for their health a safety, which is something we take very seriously, after a number of recent serious accidents related to staff cycling.

Having reviewed our approach we support our staff in using bicycles for business travel as long as they feel competent to do so, the bicycle they are using is properly maintained and they are wearing the appropriate safety equipment at all times – a proper cycle helmet, high visibility clothing and front and rear lights. We will be reimbursing staff for cycle travel as we do for other forms of transport."

A spokesman for the Trust told road.cc that the organisation had this week reviewed its policy after a number of its own staff, on receiving the internal email last Friday, had sought "clarification" regarding their employer's stance on cycling. He denied that today's change of policy on the use of Boris bikes had been prompted by an adverse media reaction to the leaked email. The spokesman stated that two employees had been injured in the last two months while cycling, one suffering a broken collar bone and the other a broken bone in the pelvis. This, he said, is what gave rise to the original precautionary internal email.   

We also asked the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) about the funding of the Carbon Trust and about their own policy on employee cycling. They said:

"For 2010/11 DECC allocated £110 million of funding to the Carbon Trust which is a not-for-profit body but their policy on cycling is entirely a matter for them.

DECC encourages safe cycling as a form of transport to work and we have a bicycle users group which looks at issues facing cyclists travelling to work. We provide facilities for cyclists on our estate such as bike racks and lockers for staff.

In terms of the London Cycle Hire Scheme, staff can claim back expenses for necessary business related travel."

Transport for London, meanwhile, appear to be having some difficulty in telling us whether or not they were surprised by the Carbon Trust's initial assesment of their Boris bikes as potentially unsafe and of low quality.

 

13 user comments

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It's alright, you can press Refresh in your browser. Get back on your bikes. Splendid climbdown Smile

posted by stever [51 posts]
12th October 2010 - 13:02

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Does anyone have the original for this, or a source? (Would be good to have some proper material so we can all write to this lot to demand an explanation.)

timlennon's picture

posted by timlennon [226 posts]
12th October 2010 - 13:28

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I thought the boris bikes were fine when I rode one to the cycle show from Victoria the other day - a bit heavy but for free (journey less than 30 minutes) they were ideal AND the traffic seemed a lot more considerate than in Bristol, lovely!

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1080 posts]
12th October 2010 - 13:28

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I reckon they were misinterpreted. They want you to ditch carbon bikes for steel ones Wink

Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

t1mmyb's picture

posted by t1mmyb [86 posts]
12th October 2010 - 14:12

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Yeah, low carbon bikes are ok in the office as a topic for discussion but you want to steal one to get anywhere.

Or something.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2132 posts]
12th October 2010 - 14:32

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Hi Tim,

Original source was a leaked email to the Copenhagenize website, that BikeBiz's Carlton Reid chased, and we then unleashed our own attack dog - Jeff Smile on. None of which I'm sure had anything to do with the Trust's change of heart on what it turns out was simply a misunderstanding etc etc

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
12th October 2010 - 16:40

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Its health and safety regulations gone mad but, for once, it seems that common sense has prevailed. This could provide a useful lesson to any other organisation that thinks we'd all be safer if we didn't move about.

posted by SteveU [6 posts]
12th October 2010 - 20:14

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If they genuinely cared about their staff they would offer training.

£110 million from the DEC, wow! Has anyone considered whether the Carbon Trust should be added to the list of quangos threatened with the axe...

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1909 posts]
12th October 2010 - 21:55

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Simon E wrote:
Has anyone considered whether the Carbon Trust should be added to the list of quangos threatened with the axe...

They're currently on the 'under review' list, IIRC

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7252 posts]
12th October 2010 - 22:08

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If it weren't so sad it would be comical watching these scaredy cat government employees chasing their own tails around between the correctness of health and safety and the correctness of low carbon emissions.

What they were thinking, obviously, is: cycling is so good in every way. Undeniable. But wait! Might be in for liability and a big payout if we've said that, an then an employee is injured in a bike accident. Oh no, now look, I need to change my underpants. Quick, get out a new policy with a lot of gobbledeygook about caution and care around dangerous cycling, and put plenty of 'at all times' and 'own responsibility' in it. But then, oh no! That means we must be advocating polluting car travel, and we have been given millions to reduce carbon emissions. Quick, back to bikes are ok. But what if......

What a lot of sweat for nothing. What sad times we live in.

Here's what to do.
1. Tell your employees that cycling is by far the cleanest and most fun and healthiest way to get around.
2. If you didn't realise already, kiddies, it's probably safer on the whole to use helmets and lights and all the usual safety stuff, like most other people, and look out for traffic. Here's some training courses for you, just in case.
3. We support all campaigns to increase cycling and reduce car use, including safe routes for cyclists and motorist awareness of cyclists. That's one of our reasons for existing as the Carbon Trust, see?

posted by bikeylikey [161 posts]
13th October 2010 - 8:14

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I still think they are sending out the wrong message. Cycling is not a particularly dangerous activity.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1332 posts]
13th October 2010 - 8:27

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My boss was asked about the cycle to work scheme. He said he didn't want to encourage cycling as it's dangerous. It was then pointed out to him that two of the other directors are keen cyclists. He scratched his head in surprise, he sinply hadn't thought of it.

"But I've got a bicycle," he said.

"But you wouldn't ride in traffic through London would you," I said.

"No, it's too dangerous."

"That's my point," I said. "The health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by a factor of 20:1."

He scratched his head again.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2132 posts]
13th October 2010 - 12:07

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bikeylikey wrote:
Here's what to do.
1. Tell your employees that cycling is by far the cleanest and most fun and healthiest way to get around.

Scene: council offices somewhere in Metroland.

Keith: Some fellow here saying cycling is 'fun'. What's that then, 'fun'?

Alan: Oh yes, I've heard of that. Sounds risky. I'd need a risk assessment before trying it. This fun, erm, thing.

Kevin: Quite agree, Alan. Sounds like it would have a high carbon emissions factor and is possibly sexist too. I think we'd better leave it well alone.

All: Agreed.

Keith: I think we should look into an anti-funnist agenda with a view to adopting same as office policy. I'll distribute a memo.

posted by bikeylikey [161 posts]
13th October 2010 - 13:06

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