Just because bicycling is affordable, doesn’t mean it’s cheap. When you factor in the costs of rain gear, safety equipment and regular maintenance, it’s easy to see how owning and maintaining a bike can cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year. On top of this, our automobile-dominated culture in America makes it hard to convince people that active transportation is the better choice for individual wallets and the economy.
But as Bloomberg reported yesterday, there’s a growing movement for workplaces and schools to promote active commute options like biking and walking as “companies are keen to keep employees fit as they stare down health-care costs that are forecast to rise 8.2 percent to $10,730 per employee in 2011.”
So what can establishments do to encourage skeptics to get out of the car and onto a bike? This was the topic of discussion at PBOT’s Bicycle Brown Bag session on Thursday.
As Oregon Health Science University (OHSU) has shown, it’s actually pretty simple. By creating a relatively inexpensive incentive or reimbursement program, any school or business can encourage students and employees to adopt active transportation habits.
Bike parking fills up near OHSU.
Photo by Jonathan Maus/BikePortland.org
The Bike Incentive Program at OHSU gives students, faculty and staff more than just one reason to ride a bike to work. In addition to improving overall health, bike commuters can earn parking space reimbursements, free monthly transit passes, or even a nice $50. To qualify, commuters must make 30 round trips to and from OHSU by bike and log their commutes on the Bike Incentive Program website. These incentives not only help reduce automobile use on the campus, but also reimburse bicyclists for some of the costs they pay to ride and maintain their bikes.
As the Bloomberg story explains, the movement is gaining momentum not just in Portland but also nationally. At Sprint headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas, bike commuters get discounted memberships for the employee fitness center. In Dallas, Texas Instruments is working with local advocates to improve the trail network.
According to OHSU’s John Landolfe, the Bike Incentive Program is “like any other workplace resource.” There are a few rules and guidelines in place for preventing potential abuses, but the program operates mainly on the basis of trust and honesty. In return, this has resulted in a successful, relatively cost-effective incentive program that has produced real results.
Smaller workplaces and schools can adopt active transportation incentive programs without breaking the bank by offering shower facilities, secure bike storage, repair tools, snacks, and free or inexpensive gear to employees and students. The US tax code also allows for businesses and individuals to receive tax breaks and subsidies for public transit passes and/or bike use.
Creating tangible benefits for employees and students who use active transportation encourages more people to get out of the car and onto the bike or sidewalk. By creating simple yet motivating incentives, schools and businesses can help build healthier individuals and a healthier community as a whole.