In the spirit of Greening the UN, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has installed bicycles at its Geneva headquarters to facilitate the commuting of staff.
Next time you see a blue bicycle entering the Palais des Nations in Geneva, stop and take a second look. It may be one of the new OHCHR bikes, equipped with a logo, a basket, and double locks. There are 10 such bicycles in circulation, used for commuting between the Palais des Nations and the two OHCHR buildings situated in Rue de Pâquis and Avenue Giuseppe Motta.
The initiative came from a staff member. OHCHR employees in Geneva frequently go from one office to another, and the distance between the two OHCHR buildings is 2 km – just a little too far to walk if you’re in a hurry. Staff members also visit the Palais des Nations for meetings and courses. To cut down on the use of personal cars during working hours, OHCHR already established a shuttle service for mail distribution and staff commuting. Unlike the bicycles, however, the shuttle runs on a strict time table. The bikes, then, provide a perfect alternative for a last minute meeting – environmentally friendly, always available, and free of cost to the staff member.
Of course, running a fleet of bicycles is not a core function in OHCHR. The organization does not employ any bike mechanics, nor are there facilities for storing spare parts or repairing equipment. Instead of buying bicycles therefore, OHCHR lease them on a yearly basis. The lease agreement comes with a service and maintenance element. Bicycle focal points have been nominated in both locations for the reporting of any bikes that require attention, but the state of the bikes is the responsibility of the bicycle provider.
Many sceptics raised their voices prior to the bicycles being installed. Some staff members predicted that the bikes would be stolen immediately. Others worried that cyclists may have accidents. Certain sceptics suggested that staff members would forget to bring the bicycles back. Others worried that insurance would be a problem. And everyone agreed that all the bikes would end up down the hill in Palais Wilson.
Bicycle statistics after 3 months of operation:
* 165 different trips taken in 3 months
* 2/3 of the trips originated in Motta
* 60 people have used the bicycles
* Top cyclist made 25 trips
* No accidents or incidents of theft
Luckily, most of these prophecies have not come true. Admittedly, there is a tendency for the bikes to gather at the bottom of the hill. But after 3 months of operation, the scheme has been largely trouble- and hassle free. Keys and helmets have been made available to staff in both locations, and a simple self-service sign-out sheet is used for monitoring usage. A leaflet explains how the scheme works. Outside of the buildings, additional racks accommodate the new OHCHR bikes.
A few factors have contributed to the early success of the scheme. Staff members can not bring OHCHR bikes home in the evening. Also, bikes must be parked at OHCHR or UN buildings, rather than in public spaces. As a result, the bikes are used mainly for commuting between the different offices. There are, however, rumours that some staff members use the bikes for recreational purpose during lunch hours. This can only be encouraged as biking is refreshing not only for the body but also for the mind!
The bicycles were first installed in May 2010 and replaced with personalized OHCHR bikes in October 2010. The current scheme will run for 1 year and will be evaluated at the end of the 12-month period. OHCHR is hopeful that the scheme will continue for the years to come and that other organizations may be inspired by this initiative.
This article was written by Karina Holm and taken from the UNSpecial N.701, December 2010