Incentives for the promotion of the bicycle in The Netherlands


Author: Ruud Ditewig, Movilization The Netherlands                                                    



Introduction: the bicycle in The Netherlands

The bicycle is an important means of transport in The Netherlands. Despite the increasing distances covered by the Dutch, the bicycle has retained it’s popularity.

The bicycle is used for more than a quarter of all journeys. In fact for distances up to 7.5 km the bicycle is the most popular means of transport. 34% of all trips up to 7.5 km are made by bicycle.

Not only the bicycle ridership is high in The Netherlands, ownership is also high. On average, the Dutch own 1.1 bicycles per person.

There are different historical reasons why cycling in The Netherlands is still popular: for example the Dutch spatial planning policy, the Dutch flat society and the Dutch traffic safety policy. But there are also some geographical factors. The Netherlands is a mostly flat country and many cities are compact.

The most important motives to cycle are commuting, going to school and social-recreational.

Commuters are an important target group. After all, this group is responsible for a many short car trips in urban areas and this group can be influenced.

Commuter cyclists decide day by day if they use the bike. They gaze at the sky and decide whether to cycle or not. What the weather was like the previous days is not important.

That is one of the conclusions of a study by University Delft into the factors affecting the daily decision whether or not to cycle. Scientists asked commuter cyclists what made them decide to cycle on some days and not on others. The results indicate there are numerous factors affecting their decision.
The daily decision to cycle is for instance affected by features of the job, features of the commute and the weather conditions. People dressed in a suit, having to carry along tools or who need a car for their job as well as people travelling on a day with high winds or more rain are apt to travel less often by bicycle on those days. But it is not true that people dressed in a suit, for instance, are more sensitive to bad weather.
A positive effect on the decision to cycle was found for higher temperatures and extended periods of sunshine. The results indicate that to a large extent the daily decision to cycle is affected by factors that may change from one day to the next.


Not only building bicycle infrastructure

Good infrastructure is of the utmost importance  for a high bicycle use. But the flanking policies and measures are also important. You can build an excellent bicycle network. But if the network is unknown, nobody uses it.

And access to a bicycle is also a key factor. Without bicycles there is no possibility to cycle. People need a bike to cycle.


To promote the bicycle ownership and to promote the bicycle network there are many incentives available. Roughly there are two groups of incentives:


  1. Incentives to promote the bicycle ownership
  2. Incentives to promote the use of the bicycle network



1. Incentives to promote access to the bicycle

Although bicycle ownership is high in The Netherlands, it’s still important to stimulate bicycle ownership or to stimulate more modern bicycles, like electric bikes.

Bicycle ownership is a serious condition for the use of the bicycle. Without bicycles people can’t cycle.

There are several arrangements that stimulate access to a bicycle:


  • Tax free bicycle for employees
  • Bicycle parking facilities in residential areas
  • The public bicycle



The tax free bicycle

One of the most important arrangements in The Netherlands to promote bicycle ownership is the tax free bike for employees. Every Dutch employer has the possibility to deliver a bicycle for his employee once in every three year as part of a tax free salary, with a maximum of 749,- Euro. There are two different arrangements possible:


-      the employee buys a bike with income tax settlement, the profit can rise up to 52%

-      the employer donates a VAT free (19,5%) bicycle to his employee; the company is the official owner of the bicycle, but the employee can use the bicycle for commuter trips and for private use.


This arrangement is supported by the Dutch ministry of Finance and Taxes.


Bicycle parking facilities in residential areas

But of course there are more measures to improve bicycle ownership. Bicycle theft is proven to be a serious constraint for cycling in The Netherlands. Almost 750,000 bicycles are stolen each year. Therefore parking facilities in residential areas are of utmost importance as part of a coherent cycling policy. In some cities indoor neighbourhood parking’s and several parking boxes have been realized in older neighbourhoods, where houses are often too small for parking the bicycle inside the house.

These parking’s are build and managed by the city. Residents of a neighbourhood rent a place in such a parking or box. This is proven to be an effective measure to stimulate bicycle ownership.


The public bicycle

To provide access to a bicycle for visitors of a city there are several public public bicycle systems. Well known systems are Velib in Paris and Bicing in Barcelona. The Netherlands has no such system. But The Netherlands has another, really unique system: the public transport bike, or OV Fiets. With a membership of 10,- Euro’s a year you can hire a bike at more then 250 public transport hub’s like railway stations, bus stations and P+R’s throughout The Netherlands. The system is owned by the Dutch railways and grew from 100,000 trips in it’s launching year 2004 to more than a million trips expected in 2011. And surprisingly, most of the trips are done for commuting and bussiness reasons.

It´s an user friendly system with quick access to a bike .  




2. Incentives to promote the use of the bicycle network

To own a bicycle is one thing, using it is something different. Promotion actions and campaign’s are needed to stimulate the use of the bicycle.

There are a lot of campaigns, actions and measures available to promote the use of the bicycle:


  • campaigns to promote shopping by bike
  • campaigns to promote commuting by bike
  • campaigns to promote the electric bike
  • campaigns to promote the bicycle network


Campaigns to promote shopping by bike

In The Netherlands we see a wide range of campaigns. Popular are campaigns to promote shopping by bike. These campaigns are always organised in cooperation with shopkeepers and shopping centres. Most of these campaigns people have the chance to win prices. That also explains why they are so popular.

In the Dutch cities Apeldoorn and Eindhoven the ‘Cycle-and-Win’ campaign (in Dutch: Fiets-en-Win) has been introduced. Cyclists using a free guarded parking facility have a chance to win prizes. The Dutch Fietsberaad developed this system as a novel marketing tool to promote cycling.

The aim of ‘Cycle-and-Win’ is to promote cycling for trips to shopping areas. In addition ‘Cycle-and-Win’ can contribute to improve the use of the available space in free guarded parking facilities and promoting shopping trips to the town centre.

Another campaign to promote shopping by bike is to collect so called ‘bike miles’ (in Dutch: Met belgerinkel naar de winkel), from origin a Belgian campaign but adopted by the Netherlands. When visiting the participating shops by bicycle, people receive a stamp. A full card of ten stamps (one for each visit by bicycle) give them a chance at winning a bicycle.


Campaigns to promote commuting by bike

Not only cyclists to shopping areas are an important target group, but also commuters. 25% of all commuter trips are done by bike. There are several campaigns to stimulate this. A good example is the cycle2-of-5 (in Dutch Rij2-op-5) campaign. The name of this campaign means: cycle 2 of the 5 working days days. It’s a cooperation between the Dutch bicycle users association, the provincial and local authorities and employers.

The campaign provides all sort of information of commuter cycling to the participating companies and employees can try out new types of bikes, like electric bikes.


Campaigns to promote the electric bike

Another upcoming campaign is the promotion of the electric bicycle. Several Dutch cities has a policy to promote the electric bike. Because it’s possible to make trips up to 20 km the electric bicycle fills the gap between the traditional bicycle and the car. For urban areas with a lot of commuter traffic between suburbs and the city this is an interesting development that makes it possible to reduce the number of urban car trips.

There a several local actions to promote the electric bike, often an initiative of the local government in cooperation with the retailers. The European Union supports the promotion and development of the electric bicycle (the type with pedal support).


Campaigns to promote the bicycle network

Information about the bicycle network is also an incentive. On a local level it’s important to provide the public well documentated information such as bicycle maps, information leaflets about bicycle parking, etc.

Bicycle maps can be printed in large impressions and is suitable to use as a welcome gift for new residents or to distribute at companies, office parks, etc.

Of course nowadays maps and leaflets are often available in a digital form.


A city who wants to promote cycling often call themselves ‘cycling city’. Cycling can become a symbol for the city. Many cities have interesting logo´s, like Amsterdam. For example the Amsterdam slogan is ´Amsterdam loves cycling´.