Across the country, the number of people riding to and from work some of the time is increasing in significant numbers. Between 2000 and 2011, San Francisco has seen a 75% increase in their mode share, from 2% of all daily trips by bike to 3.5% of all daily trips. All six cities participating in People for Bikes’ Green Lane Project have seen healthy increases in their bike to work trips. Impressive. Except for the fact that these numbers, while moving in the right direction, show that we still have a long, long way to go.
Cities are doing a lot to provide safe routes for riders. Chicago is a shining example of “if you build it, they will come” approach. Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the grand statement that his team will put in 100 miles of protected infrastructure in his first four years in office. The city, with Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein and his team of can-do staff at the helm, is on pace to accomplish this feat. They are doing innovative things to create low stress environments for riders. In droves, people have come out and USED these bike lanes. Lots and lots of people – young, old, big and small – they are out in Chicago arriving at their office by bike. This is really, really good.
Companies are starting to get into this conversation, as more and more recognize that their employees want transportation choices, especially the choice to arrive at work by bike. The Downtown Denver business association recently came out with the findings that downtown Denver companies find that bike lanes is the number one thing that the high tech workers want in downtown Denver. NUMBER ONE. Forget the free food, dog parks and dry cleaning services made popular in the ’90s by Google and others. Now, the millennials want bike lanes. Companies are putting pressure on their city leaders to help provide the infrastructure to get their employees into their offices. But the responsibility of providing what the bike commuters need does not end outside the office door. Companies need to step up and provide amenities for the commuters too.
So, what does this mean and what are the key ingredients to pushing a commuter culture in your business?
The first, and most important (but often overlooked) thing commuters need is a safe, secure place to park their bike. Even though bike commuters have just pedaled any number of miles to get TO the office, don’t think they will walk an extra distance to park their bike. The bike parking must be conveniently located, it must provide peace of mind to the user that their bike will be there when they are ready to ride home, and there must be enough of it. Maximizing space is critical here, so two tier parking or using vertical wall space for bikes is a good way to make the most of small spaces.
Upping the level of service is a great next step to supporting the bike commuters in your office. Provide a public maintenance stand and air pumps so that bike commuters can ensure that their ride can take them home and is in good enough condition to keep them on the road. A full service maintenance shop isn’t necessary, but it’s a good idea to have enough tools that someone can change a tire, fix a chain or make a minor adjustment to get them back home. These amenities provide peace of mind and also show that your organization supports the bike commuters.
The final, and what we have found to be a critical ingredient in moving the needle, is a commuter incentive program. At Saris, we started a commuter incentive program in 2010, and since then, we’ve seen a 300% increase in the number of participants who commute by bike on a regular basis. We use our Hub system, which tracks participant’s trips, mileage, and points with a simple swipe of a card. The website profile of each individual and our company as a whole provides a visual reminder to how you are doing. And, a little competition never hurts – the top five listing shows who to unseat to move up the ranks of commuters. We have a staff member whose job it is to create fun and inventive challenges to keep our riders motivated and engaged. Plus, the rewards never hurt. The top prize in 2013 is cash. To get to this prize, a rider has to commute at least 95% of the work days, PLUS participate in some advocacy work (we give extra points for volunteering in our advocacy events or mentoring new participants). Multiple people are on track to earn this award this year.
The return on providing these tools and the related increase in bike commuting can be measured in employee productivity, retention and team morale. What HR department or executive team is NOT discussing how to boost these areas for their company? A simple ROI analysis shows that the resources spent on providing the necessary infrastructure and support of a bike commuter program is easily and quickly recovered. And that doesn’t even capture the non-tangible benefits that will come from encouraging camaraderie, team spirit and active transportation.
We urge you to take the first step! No one ever regretted making their employees more productive and happier. It’s a great way to kick off the New Year, and we are here to help you.
- Sarah Reiter, Saris Parking Category Manager