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

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.