As Bike Commuting Gains Traction, Companies Get Into Gear
While many commuters are sitting in rush-hour traffic or cramming into subways and buses, others, like Jonathan O’Connell, a project manager at Christopher Burke Engineering, are wheeling and dealing their way to work.
O’Connell rides his bicycle 25 miles each day from his home in Chicago to an office in Rosemont, Ill. As a result, his company provides him with free breakfast once a month, new accessories for his bike and a cash incentive based on how many miles he rides per year (last year he made $500).
"Not just are we getting paid by the company to bike,” says O’Connell, “but also the savings of not having to fill your car up as often obviously plays a big part.”
Cities across the U.S. have recently seen a spike in bicycle commuters and Christopher Burke Engineering is one of a growing number of companies taking notice.
“In the last 12 to 24 months, we’ve seen a growing interest from the business community in finding ways that they can encourage and enable their employees to ride to work,” says Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists.
Companies are trying a variety of things to accommodate bike commuters--cash incentives, free bicycles, bicycle share programs, access to showers and indoor parking.
And to sweeten the deal for bike-friendly employers and bicycle commuters, Congress passed the Bicycle Commuter Act on January 1, 2009, which extends transit benefits to cyclists. Any employer may provide a reimbursement of up to $20 per month for expenses incurred by an employee in conjunction with their commute to work by bike.
San Francisco has seen a 43 percent increase in the number of people biking since 2006. Six percent of all trips in the city are now done on bicycle, according to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Businesses inside and outside of the city are responding.
Yahoo , for example, has bike racks outside every building on its Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, Calif., campuses. It also provides bike commuters with lockers, access to showers and onsite bicycle care. On the third Thursday of every month, the “Bike Doctor” comes to Yahoo’s Sunnyvale campus to provide free tune-ups and repairs. Employees can loan a company-owned bike for free for up to one week at a time.
“Yahoo is committed to reducing our impact on the environment,” says Kim Rubey, a company spokeswoman. “Our bicycle friendly policies as well as our other alternatives for commuters provide several options for our employees to do their part in protecting the environment.”
Discovery Communications , the parent company of the Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet, reimburses employees at all of its U.S. offices up to $350 for the purchase of a new bicycle and also provides safe parking for bikes.
“The bike program is very much in line with the green philosophy of the company,” says Adria Alpert Romm, senior vice president of human resources at Discovery Communications.
Romm says the bicycle program also fits in with the company’s extensive wellness program and helps reduce the number of vehicle parking spaces at its headquarters in Silver Spring, Md.
In New York City, bicycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation, up 35 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to Transportation Alternatives, a bicycling and public transit advocacy group.
However, riding a bike to work in the Big Apple can be a challenge for employees who do not have access to secure parking, considering some 75,000 bicycles are stolen in the city each year.
Ogilvy and Mather, a global advertising and public relations company, received complaints from employees in its New York offices, because there was no safe parking place for bicycles. The company, of course, lacked space in its existing building, but when it moved a few blocks west, O&M decided to provide more space than had been requested.
In the new building opening in June, one-third of its indoor parking lot will be dedicated to bicycle storage. There will be spaces for 150 bicycles with 50 of them filled by company-owned ones that employees can use for leisure or for business travel. O&M will also provide cyclists with free helmets and access to showers.
“In the creative industry, pragmatically, it helps us with attracting talent and I believe retaining talent in the future,” says Gunther Schumaker, chief operating officer at the firm.
Schumaker says the bike program also fits in with the company's sustainability initiatives and predicts it will cut down car-service costs for employees who travel within Manhattan.