A tale of two countries

Philip Gomes

cycling, Italy, Australia, bicycle sales
Bicycle and car sales 2002-2011 (Australia)
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It was news last week that bicycle sales in Italy surpassed that of cars for the first time since 1964 while Australia closes in on a decade of doing the same.

Of course it was a bit of a surprise to find that has not always been the case in a country most of us view as a cycling heartland. But those who have visited Italy will know the country is motoring and scooter mad.

Navigating traffic as a driver or pedestrian in Rome or Palermo can be challenging, and sometimes fun.

For the 2011 year 1,750,000 bicycles were sold in Italy, a 10 per cent increase on 2010, while 1,748,143 million new cars were registered, down 20 per cent.

According to La Repubblica, economic conditions in Italy have contributed to the difference in sales, with the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), high petrol prices, the cost of registration and more practically the lack of parking on perennially congested city streets.

Here in Australia this kind of news is now met with a bit of a yawn, with bicycles outselling cars each year since 2002.

The Australian experience is different because we continue to enjoy some of the best economic numbers in the OECD. It may be that bicycle sales are strong as a result of discretionary spending. Half of all Australian homes have at least one bicycle.

Last year 1,313,446 bikes were sold in Australia while 1,008,437 cars left the local lots, both down a bit on 2010.

The graph above from the Cycling Resource Center details the numbers from 2002 to 2011, with 11.9 million bicycles imported into Australia in that time.

The Center also noted that sales of bicycles and accessories in Australia are valued at $1 billion a year, generating around $100 million in GST revenue, while the industry employs approximately 10,000 people, generating around $139 million in income tax revenue.

Despite the difference it will be interesting to see if the numbers hold for both countries, more so if economic conditions were reversed.

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