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13 October, 2005

Missed opportunity

The University's 'Travel Plan Co-ordinator' circulated an e-mail this morning promoting a potential scheme whereby, as I initially understood it, staff could buy bikes at a rate subsidised by the University and Inland Revenue (ie. the employer and tax authority).  That'd be a great idea, and an encouragement to those considering cycle commuting.  I began drafting a reply saying that I'm not currently looking to replace my bike, but that I'd like to express my support for the concept, and might use it at a later date.

However, before sending that, I happened to read another response, from someone who'd already studied the small print at the scheme's website.

Contrary to the initial announcement, and the <title> of that web page ("Buy bikes tax free with Cyclescheme and the Government Green Transport Plan. Save up to 50%"), this doesn't involve buying outright – it's a leasing scheme, with an option to buy at the end. Throughout the period of the lease, the bike remains the property of the employer.

I found the initial presentation of the plan to be extremely misleading, and having discovered its true nature, I react with hostility, but more objectively, I have major doubts about whether this really is the best option for the typical user.

One further drawback is that though the scheme doesn't specify particular bike manufacturers or types, the employee is obliged to buy (sorry, 'acquire') his/her bike from a limited number of shops – there's only one within the Lancaster area – which might well be agents for a narrow range of manufacturers. I've experienced that before: my bike was stolen a few years ago, and the insurer obliged me to obtain a replacement from one specific shop, which only had one model of a comparible type and cost. I was riding a crappy Raleigh (they make awful bikes!) for at least a year before I could afford to replace it with something truly of my own selection, my current bike.

Another disadvantage is that though the University would retain full ownership of a leased bike, if it was stolen, the employee would have to keep paying for it. I suppose that's rational, but it's not something I'd accept.

Applying that logic to the whole proposition, I do acknowledge that it might suit some people, but I certainly won't be giving it further consideration.

So, a market opportunity remains: if anyone wants to formulate a subsidised 'buy outright' scheme, you have my support. In principle, that is – I'd need to see the small print!

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