Selling Cycling - we need data

Selling Cycling – we need data


Note: The following obviously presupposes the need for a minimum level of perceived safety and convenience provided for those who do end up choosing to cycle, which goes without saying. This also makes the assumption, rightly or wrongly, that simply building more and better cycling infrastructure on its own won’t be enough to entice people out of their cars and onto bikes, and that many governments aren’t brave enough to take away people’s liberties, as it would surely be seen, by purposely making driving more difficult.

Following on from our last stab at selling cycling, if we are to grow cycling as a movement or aim to increase the cycling mode share of a city a meaningful amount, then we need to get people using bikes to do normal things, and that means as transportation.

The whole point of getting people to use a bicycle as a means of transportation is specifically to get them out of the default mindset of using a car to get everywhere, no matter how far or easy the trip is. More people cycling recreationally is great and all in so far as it will get more people more accustomed to seeing cyclists about and thereby helping to normalize cycling in the collective consciousness, but that’s not the main goal. The main goal is for cycling and walking to replace modes of transport that are detrimental to people and the planet on every level.

So, the first question that comes to my mind is, who do we want to be selling cycling to? People who drive cars.

Who drives cars? Nearly everyone. Rich, poor, young, old, fit, lazy, healthy, unhealthy, black, white, conservative, liberal… you get the point. As many different kinds of people exist, that’s our target audience on a global scale, but we can drill down to refine our criteria when we are dealing with a localized population. Every country, state, and city will have a unique collection of residents who use personal motorized transport in slightly different ways.

To know our audience we need data. We need to know who is going to be the easiest group to sell to, and then move on to the next group as we are able. Who is driving short distances? Who is driving by themselves? Who is travelling light? Where are they going? How easy or difficult is their current mode of transport making their journey? These are the kinds of questions we need answers to before we can begin to expect any real change in attitude. Sure, we can simply throw a few random bike lanes in and we’ll see a few more people ride now and then, but given that we’re not likely to see a complete reorganizing of our current infrastructure in places like Australia in the limited time we have left to make any meaningful change before the world goes pop, we need to aim a little higher.

So the answer is that our target audience consists of a whole bunch of different people, but that we should start with those for whom the transition from driving to cycling would be the easiest, which means single occupant motorists driving short distances, without needing to take much with them.

Depending on the region, that is usually still an alarmingly large number of people. If we use the UK as an example, “55% of part-time workers commuted less than 5 km, 38% of full-time workers did the same“. That’s a lot of people, and we could expect to find people from every socioeconomic category with different interests, levels of health, age, and on and on, so we still need more information.

We need to find out which groups within this group are the largest, and which of the groups would be easiest to convert to cycling. Now you’re thinking, like me, that this all sounds like it’s going to require a bit of effort and time, and is this really necessary? I mean, I might be wrong, but didn’t The Netherlands simply decide to change the way people moved around their cities by building vast and dense networks of cycling infrastructure while squeezing the convenience out of traveling by car and then letting people decide how they were going to get around on their own? They basically took the products they didn’t like off the shelf and replaced them with better ones, and then said, “if you want the products that are bad for you, then you can still have them, but now they’re harder to get and three times the price.” That’s a tactic I like the sound of, but somehow I don’t see that happening in places that are a little less practical and sensible than those in North-Western Europe.

So we’re back to having to convince people, one way or another, that they should get on a bike and leave the car at home. We know that our customer base is massive even though we’ve narrowed it down, and know that even among those that would technically be the easiest to convert (single occupant motorists driving short distances with little luggage), we would still need to understand the kinds of things they are motivated by in order to attempt to successfully sell cycling to them.

And again, this is sounding difficult. These could be really difficult and time-consuming surveys and people already aren’t comfortable with how much “the man” knows about them… which the man totally does. I’m quite sure that, privacy laws or not, all that information is already known. Social media is social information gathering, and I’m quite sure that if any large corporation would ever admit it, they know enough about most of us to write a pretty informative biography. The information is out there, it just needs to be collated and put to good use.

In the meantime, as this information is organized into something that could inform a marketing campaign to sell cycling, we can continue to build good cycling infrastructure based on best practices from those with a proven track record (eg, The Netherlands), and place it in appropriate locations based on information already gathered and organized from tools like Strava Metro.

That’s probably enough for today. As usual, feel free to add your thoughts, and I’ll continue to muse about this topic in similar bits and pieces in the coming weeks and months.


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