Challenging Winter Travel Blues

Active travel challenges are a tested and fun way for organisations to encourage their staff to consider alternative and more active ways of travel to, and while at work. Developing the challenge programme is also one of the more enjoyable tasks that planners can be involved in. The difficulty comes with creating the level of enthusiasm amongst staff that will encourage them want to participate, particularly when the challenge launch date is scheduled for February... in North Wales....

But more of that later...

North Wales Housing (NWH) was formed in 1974, and works to improve the lives of people in need. The organisation provides homes and services to around 2,400 households across North Wales and employs over 145 people, with 100 staff based evenly across two office sites, the remainder, mostly those employed on outreach and service delivery, work remotely, or from home.

In October 2012 NWH won grant funding from TAITH, the local transport consortium to implement a number of cycling related initiatives, JMP was tasked with delivering these initiatives which included creating a bilingual winter cycling guide (for staff and tenants) and developing a New Year staff active travel challenge programme.

The winter cycling guide was produced by JMP in-house and delivered to Richard Snaith, NWH sustainability co-ordinator in November 2012. It included top tips on how to keep cycling and keep safe during the colder weather conditions.

The active travel challenge programme and timetable was developed by JMP and we recommended launching the challenge during late March 2013 to coincide with the clocks changing and the start of BST. Best practice and experience tells us that behaviour change techniques are always easier to implement during the spring and summer months.

Unfortunately restrictions on how the grant needed be spent meant that all the tasks receiving grant funding had to implemented and fully delivered by March.

The challenge, designed by JMP, encouraged staff members to participate as individuals or in teams of up to four. This was important as NWH were keen for as many remote working staff to be able to participate in the challenge even though they may not interact directly with the office based staff.

JMP produced wall-charts for the two main office sites and these charts included space for team and individual team member’s names. The charts took the form of a two-week calendar, and team members filled in their accumulated points earned from each day’s sustainable travel during the challenge period.

Points were earned relative to the distance and type of travel. Walkers, runners and cyclists earned the most points, car sharers the next highest, while lone drivers or motorcyclists earned the least number of points. Extra points could be earned for participating in led lunchtime walks.

For those working remotely who had no access to the office wall charts, JMP established an online daily mileage and points log book within Survey Monkey that participants filled in each day. Honesty and trust naturally plays an important part when setting up these initiatives. Cheating is frowned upon and was to be severely punished with, at worst probably a shrug and disappointed stare from colleagues.

We used Survey Monkey again to carry out an all-staff travel survey prior to the challenge taking place, this was in order to try to establish a baseline of existing travel behaviour and gain an appreciation of the level of change participants displayed during and following the challenge programme.

A novel idea for this challenge was the introduction of an active sweepstake competition, entirely separate from the main challenge itself. The sweepstake was scheduled to run on the last day of the two week challenge period. The sweepstake required one member of staff at each of the two NWH office sites to cycle an unusual (for them) distance to work, in this case around 15 miles. Sweepstake participants were advised of the rider and distance beforehand and had to guess how long each rider would take to cover the distance to the nearest minute.

Obviously the hardest part of any travel challenge is enthusing staff to a degree that makes them want to participate in the challenge. The challenge should not operate for too long a period, or be so difficult that less fit staff, and therefore those who are most likely to benefit are too intimidated to take part. Then again, make it too difficult and only the already fit and gazelle-like cyclists and joggers will be there on the start line from day one and end up competing in an elite ‘challenge of the already fittest’ competition.

Having teams helps, and gentle competition between departments or desks makes for fun. Along with this the inclusion of unusual prize categories such as ‘best team photo’ and ‘the most persistent team’ along with the more serious categories of ‘most points earned’ or ‘highest level of change recorded’ will help get reluctant participants joining in.

As part of the challenge timetable JMP wrote a series of email messages which promoted information and advice about the challenge. These were supplied to NWH in advance along with a timetable of set dates indicating when each email should be circulated to staff.

Even in early February Richard and his team at NHW, along with JMP’s Rhian Lewis and Chris Rushton managed to get eight teams signed up for the two-week challenge with a further 22 signing up on Survey Monkey to participate remotely. Importantly, support for this initiative came from the highest level of management within NWH.

30 staff joined a led lunchtime walk and a further eight joined led cycle rides, the new cycle shed which had also been installed at one of the offices as part of the grant funding was satisfyingly well over half full.

Strong support was gathered from local cycle shops in Llandudno Junction and Bangor. Other travel advice came from local bus operator Arriva, local cycle store West Coast Cycles, The CTC, Traveline Cymru and Taith, (the North Wales transport board many of whom had representatives attending a lunchtime launch event on the first day of the challenge). The local CTC group were recruited and enthusiastically joined in by leading the lunchtime cycle rides.

However, most credit must go to Richard Snaith and staff at NWH for taking on the not inconsiderable, well… challenge, of getting staff onboard and encouraging them to take part for the whole of the two-week challenge contest, in February, in North Wales. With lovely scenery to take in as part of their daily active commute, not least the RSPB bird sanctuary and Conwy Castle the JMP team can’t help being a bit jealous!

Contact Gary at gary.cummins@jmp.co.uk