France has started a six-month experiment with paying people to cycle to work, joining other European governments in trying to boost bicycle use to boost people's health, reduce air pollution and cut fossile fuel consumption.
Several countries including the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and Britain have bike-to-work schemes, with different kinds of incentives such as tax breaks, payments per kilometre and financial support for buying bicycles.
In France, some 20 companies and institutions employing a total of 10,000 people have signed up to pay their staff 25 euro cents (34 U.S. cents) per kilometre biked to work, the transport ministry said in a statement on Monday.
French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier, noting that commuting using public transport and cars is already subsidised, said that if results of the test are promising, a second experiment on a larger scale will be done.
The ministry hopes that the bike-to-work incentive scheme will boost bike use for commuting by 50 percent from 2.4 percent of all work-home journeys, or about 800 million km, with an average distance of 3.5 km per journey.
In Belgium, where a tax-free bike incentive scheme has been in place for more than five years, about 8 percent of all commutes are on bicycles. In the flat and bicycle-friendly Netherlands, it is about 25 percent, cycling organisations say.
The Brussels-based European Cyclists' Federation has European Union funding to study best practices among various cycling incentive schemes, the group's Bike2Work project manager Randy Rzewnicki said.
City bike-loan schemes have played a large role in boosting bicycle commuting and cities including Barcelona, London and Stockholm have followed the model of the Velib in Paris.