Bristol council pays staff double the Government recommendation to cycle to meetings
BRISTOL City Council pays its staff 40p a mile to cycle to business meetings – the same amount it pays employees in cars.
That is twice the amount the Government recommends for cyclists and double the figure of neighbouring authorities North Somerset and South Gloucestershire councils.
Whitehall rules state that organisations can claim 20p a mile tax-free for cyclists.
Unlike drivers, they do not have the added cost of road tax, insurance, petrol and MoT certificate.
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Motorcyclists, who face similar costs to car drivers, are entitled to a much lower rate of 24p, the same as the government recommendation.
A number of local authorities across the country have increased cyclists' rates as an incentive to get more staff out of their cars and on to bikes.
But the funding for that subsidy comes out of the taxpayer's pocket.
Anything above the recommended rate is also taxable.
Bristol City Council claims it pays the higher rate to avoid staff paying for parking, a charge that would ultimately fall on the taxpayer when it was claimed back.
In the last financial year, it has paid out more than £16,500 to 255 employees, who cycled more than 41,000 miles on business.
During the same period, it paid £1.6 million to 3,834 car and van drivers, who claimed 4.1 million miles in 12 months.
Reaction to Bristol's mileage rate for cyclists, which is the same as Bath and North East Somerset Council, has been divided.
Hugh Bladon, from the Association of British Drivers, said: "I suppose it's perfectly reasonable to pay cyclists an allowance, but to pay them the same as drivers is simply outrageous.
"You don't have to insure a bike for the road, you don't have to pay a road fund licence, you barely have any cost by way of depreciation and you don't have to pay for any fuel.
"Quite frankly, to pay cyclists the same rate is absurd."
But Sustrans, the national cycle network which is based in Bristol, says the city council is right to promote cycling.
Adrian Roper, regional director for the South West, said: "By making their allowance equal to that of car use, Bristol City Council is recognising the many and varied benefits that will result from fewer people driving for work journeys and more people cycling. Indeed, the Chief Medical Officer only last month called for a massive increase in cycling and walking for daily trips.
"Cycling in Bristol is often much quicker than driving and may reduce the amount of time wasted sitting in traffic queues.
"We, therefore, think the city council is acting very wisely, and that it should do more to encourage people out of their cars and on to bikes, not less."
Unlike cars though, bicycles have no odometers to keep track of mileage and cyclists cannot provide petrol receipts as drivers would.
But the council insists it takes measures to prevent fraudulent claims from employees.
Council spokeswoman Kate Hartas said: "Council staff have a duty to attend meetings and visits at various locations.
"There is no free staff parking in the city centre and few pool cars," she said.
"The rate is an incentive to use bikes and it reduces the cost of parking, which is at the public rates, and bus fares which have a far higher impact on the council tax payer.
"Bicycles are encouraged (over motorbikes) as they have no impact on the environment.
"Managers must agree and sign off distances between locations, and it is subject to audit."