After visiting Milan a few years ago I complained about how even though it had good public transit, “it is a city overrun by cars. Public space that should be open and green is given over to storing automobiles because there is nowhere else to put them.” I concluded that “the lesson from Milan is that it is not enough to have great transit; you need to work hard to make the pedestrian welcome and you have to work harder to get rid of all those cars.”
They have tried, and were early adopters of bike sharing and have a congestion charge, but it clearly wasn’t enough; now, according to Rosie Scammell in the Guardian, the city is considering paying people to ride bikes instead of driving. Pierfrancesco Maran, Milan's mobility councillor, wants to “Reimburse those who go to work by bike; a project similar to the one in France.”- a program where employees were paid 25 centimes per kilometre to cycle instead of drive, covered in TreeHugger here. He is quoted in Fast Company:
We want to focus the public opinion on the fact that moving by bike is much healthier for them and for the city..To give direct money to those who go to work by bike, or to give them some other sustainable-mobility incentive.
As for the cost of this subsidy, Maran wonders why bikes should be different from any other form of transportation:
If we look at mobility all together, for example, even half of the cost of public transport is contributed by national funds. So we will give a little money as an incentive for citizens to know that cycling is healthier than cars, and can be a good alternative in a flat city like Milan.
They are working on the technical problem of how one actually does this; from the Guardian:
One idea includes a system to monitor a person’s travelling speed, to check whether they are really cycling to work – although Milan’s heavy traffic could make this challenging. “In the city, those who travel by bike are almost faster than cars,” [Milan Polytechnic mobility manager Eleonaora] Perotto said. She is supportive of the scheme as a way to promote cycling in Milan, but admits she doesn’t cycle to work herself because of the distance and difficulty of the route.
The fact that Ms. Perotto doesn’t cycle is symptomatic of the problems this program will face; if people don’t feel safe or if the air is so polluted, they won’t bike. Mikael Colville-Andersen tells the Guardian:
Pollution creates an undesirable environment in a city, which doesn’t exactly encourage people to spend more time outdoors. Pay-to-bike schemes are a nice idea, but if the city is clogged with toxic emissions, telling people to get out and cycle in it is a bit ridiculous.
Urban Planner Ralph Buehler also noted: “If you don’t provide a safe cycling environment, you will only get a very small group of people.”
I tried cycling in Milan and you couldn’t pay me to do it again. Stone paving, streetcar tracks, cars everywhere, people driving on the sidewalks, crazy drivers and filthy smoking old Vespas. It has a nice bike share system and lots of pedestrian areas in the core, but as soon as you get out of that immediate area it's a mess.
Really, forget about paying people to ride; give them decent safe infrastructure first and they will come.