Monday, 10 June 2013

Perfume!

There's an old saying (that I've used on here before) that goes like this: If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you always got.

This is an absolute truth in so many different aspects of life, with cycling advocacy somewhere near the top.

See, for years, decades even, cycling advocacy has taken the shape of "No, you're doing it wrong! We don't want this, we want that!" Quite predictably, cycling campaigners can very easily come to be seen as being negative, never satisfied with anything and impossible to please.

For a moment, I want you to forget about your bike. Yes, I know how much you love cycling, but play along. There's a purpose to all this.

Your new role is in Sales, and you have to sell me perfume. For starters, you'd probably ask some probing questions, to gauge how much I know about perfume. If you did, you'd very soon discover I know almost nothing about it, and therefore I'm certainly not in love with the product.

As a salesperson, your task will now be to sell the perfume to me. To get me to part with cold hard cash for something I don't otherwise think about, will never use myself and that I'm utterly disinterested in (regardless of what I may say to my wife when she asks) you will need to sell the benefits to me.

As in, you need to convince me what possible benefits there are FOR ME. If there's nothing in it for me, at best, if you nag me into submission over a very long time, I'll buy the smallest bottle of the cheapest perfume available, just to get you to shut up.

This is pretty much what's been happening with cycle campaigning all over the UK - we get fobbed off with minimal expenditure just to get us to shut up for a while!

As cycling campaigners, we tend to do that - we nag for more. Yes, I'm sure you always tell local councilors about the health benefits to cycling. Nice try, but so mis-targeted! Ask yourself what's in it for them? We're talking politicians here, so above all else they care about being re-elected. So what you need to do is demonstrate how cycling can help them get re-elected.

And just how will you achieve that? After all, in Seville, Spain, local politicians installed over 120km of good quality segregated cycle lanes. Tellingly, at the recent APPG on Cycling's inquire into cycling, entitled Get Britain Cycling, when it was mentioned that cycling levels in Seville increased ten-fold, MPs immediately asked whether the politicians responsible for the scheme were re-elected. The mood noticeable dropped when they learnt that the Spanish politicians didn't get re-elected.

No, you sell the infrastructure by pointing to the increased levels of cycling. Ultimately, accountants rule the world and everything, absolutely everything, sooner or later is reduced to a spreadsheet on some computer.

THAT is where the battle will be lost, or won. Right there in that spreadsheet!

Where are the studies showing how increased cycling causes a reduction in road maintenance costs, due to a decrease in wear and tear to the roads? Where are the studies showing the real impact increased cycling could have on helping local authorities avoiding fines for poor air quality. Where are the studies showing how businesses benefit from good, segregated cycling infrastructure near them?

The health studies exist, but are almost meaningless. You simply cannot expect a local councilor to vote to spend council money on cycling by telling them there is a direct and massive cost benefit for the NHS! The translation of that reads like this: Dear Councilor, please take a large portion of your budget and give it to the NHS, but you'll receive nothing in return for it.

That won't win hearts and minds!

Council budgets are being squeezed from all sides. If you can prove to a council that by investing in decent cycling infrastructure they can save oodles of money, which they'd be free to spend elsewhere, you're on to a winner.

The trouble is, the studies must be comprehensive, independent, stand up to scrutiny and have overviews that easily reduce to little factoids and sound bytes. These sound bytes and factoids then need to be published far and wide and this is to be repeated ad nauseam so that they stick in people's minds. Especially the minds of those that don't like cycling.

Winning the economic argument allows a councilor to stand before the electorate and say, in total honesty, by creating good cycling infrastructure we've saved you money, allowing us to not cut xxx services, increase council tax, or whatever financial outcome worked locally.

By having ordinary people hear that from the politicians they elected, and continue to elect due to the councilors shrewd ways to stretch budgets, we can start swing opinions about cycling in general.

This is obviously a simplified explanation of a strategy, but as a strategy it is sound and deliverable. All we need are the independent studies done by various academics to prove the point that money invested year on year in good cycling infrastructure will boost local authorities and local economies.