If a councillor cycles to a council meeting, they can generally park in two places, says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner.
There are bike racks beside City Hall out in the open at Barnardo Square. “But that’s not the most secure place,” Horner says.
There’s also indoor bike parking that councillors can use at the Civic Offices at Wood Quay, Horner says.
Wood Quay is a five-minute stroll from City Hall, and it’s where councillors mostly park their cars.
But parking a bike there chips away at the incentives to take a bike in the first place, she says. “The advantage of the bike is being able to take it right to the spot you need to go.”
It’s one example of how the incentives aren’t set up right to encourage councillors to cycle, says Horner, and there are others too, it seems, like the way that travel expenses are arranged.
If councillors get to 80 percent of meetings, they get an annual expenses allowance, part of which is to cover travel to council meetings, committees, monthly meetings.
The rate is calculated based on the distance a councillor lives from council headquarters and the rate per kilometre is the same regardless of how they travel, show circulars and reports.
On top of that, though, they can apply for payments to cover some other ad-hoc travel – to conferences, some other work events, or training sessions, regulations say.
But a Department of Housing circular only mentions reimbursement for those who go by private car when using public transport “is not practicable”. Travel by bike isn’t included.
Councillors have to travel a lot for work, says People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh.
“The meetings that you have are not just in the council. You’re on a variety of committees. You’ll be moving around the community a lot. You could be bringing newsletters and leaflets that you have to distribute,” she says.
Councillors can’t claim expenses for bike maintenance such as punctures or bus fares, said a council spokesperson.
Horner says that councillors are offered driving expenses for the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly (EMRA), for example, a meeting of councillors across Leinster.
“If you use a bike you will not be able to pay the mileage part of your claim as the rates are based on engine size,” Horner says, reading from an email she received from the EMRA.
Horner was told that the mileage rates were not decided by the EMRA but by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.
Those motor rates for the extra travel expenses are based on civil service rates, last set in 2017, and range from roughly 21 cents to 84 cents a kilometre depending on distance and engine.
Civil service mileage rates though do include options for other kinds of transport – motorcycles, and bikes. The mileage rate for bikes was last set in 2007 and is 8 cent a kilometre.
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Expenditure said that the civil service travel rates apply to councillors.
MacVeigh said that incentives would help encourage councillors to use their bikes. “But it boils down to the individual.”
Allowing councillors who cycle to claim an amount per kilometre could encourage more to cycle, says Fianna Fáil Councillor Keith Connolly.
“I think anything to encourage people cycling and to get people out of the car in the city centre should be encouraged,” he says.
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Expenditure said that recoupment for travel is to reimburse for costs for official business. “The rates are not considered to be a source of emolument or profit and are therefore not intended to be an incentive.”
The bicycle rate of 8 cents per kilometre is expected to be looked at again this year, they said, as part of an overall review.
Bang for Buck
For the regular council meetings, too, the council should be doing more to encourage councillors to cycle, Horner says.
Nine councillors use their bikes as their main mode of transport, according to a survey of 40 councillors a year ago. (There are 63 councillors on Dublin City Council.)
“Parking isn’t free. It comes at a cost to the council to be incentivising people to drive their cars into the city,” says Horner.
There are externalised costs for the council when cars are driven in the city, Horner says.
“Air, pollution, congestion, wear and tear of the road all these kind of things that are just a cost of people driving on the road,” she says.
The council needs to quantify if this is a good use of money, Horner says.
“I think we should be getting mileage and that the council should be accounting for the externalised costs for cycling and driving,” she says.
The council should also provide secure, convenient bike parking, Horner says.
MacVeigh says that there is surveillance on bikes parked in Barnardo Square up until 4pm. “But once the evening meetings start there isn’t.”