Outside Business Journal

Opinion: Companies Should Make It a Priority to Boost Employee Bicycling

Businesses are uniquely positioned to help facilitate a mass shift to bicycling through employer-sponsored bike leasing initiatives and other incentive programs

Kiran Herbert

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This January, I learned that I’d soon be getting paid to bike. My employer, the bicycle advocacy organization PeopleForBikes, announced that for every ride I took—anywhere—I’d receive $4, up to a total of $100 a month. 

For PeopleForBikes, launching the Bike Benefits Program was a no-brainer, a way for us to live our mission statement and get more people on bicycles. It was also a way for us to showcase our new app, Ride Spot Enterprise, which makes it easy for employers to set up bike-based incentive programs. But most importantly, it was a way for us to benefit people and planet by creating happier, healthier employees who are incentivized to do good for the environment. [Editor’s note: OBJ‘s parent company, Outside Inc., runs a similar program, paying employees $2 for every day they commute to work by bike.]

It’s a move other businesses are well positioned to emulate.

Help Getting Started

For most companies interested in this kind of incentive program, the first question will be “Where do we start?” Good news: there are entire organizations already set up to help you.

Since 2010, the California-based consultancy Bikes Make Life Better has helped some of the biggest brands in the world—including Apple, Facebook, and Google—set up cycling programs for their employees, helping with everything from end-of-trip bike facilities (think secure parking and showers) to the creation of bike share systems.

According to the company’s co-founder, Kurt Wallace, Bikes Make Life Better launched with the goal of capitalizing on a bike boom Wallace saw as imminent. “[Before us], no one was working with businesses to help them use bikes as part of their daily operations,” said Wallace. “There was bike advocacy…but no one was talking specifically to business.”

In the next year, Wallace expects to see a “great increase” in companies financially rewarding employees for riding, as well as legislation at the federal level offering tax breaks to support bicycling. 

“You can’t address transportation issues at the corporate level, or climate change issues at the business level, without bikes,” said Wallace. “From a climate or a financial perspective, it just doesn’t mathematically work without having bikes in your solution.”

“You can’t address…climate change issues at the business level without bikes,” says Kurt Wallace, co-founder of Bikes Make Life Better (Photo: Getty Images)

Cost Is a Factor, but Employers Can Help

Employers are also uniquely positioned to help their employees afford good commuter bikes—a barrier to entry for many would-be cyclists.

CycleBack NYC, a program led by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), is spreading that idea by advocating for lease-to-own bike programs among New York employers—a model popular in certain European countries like Germany, where tax incentives make leasing a bike through your employer up to 40 percent cheaper than purchasing one directly.

“Subsidizing bikes in most cities is certainly much cheaper than subsidizing parking,” said Seth Ullman, vice president of transportation and sustainability at NYCEDC. “We’re working to facilitate easier, safer, cleaner, and cheaper options for people to get around, and bicycling should be one of those options.”

It’s already a proven model, ripe for wider adoption in the United States. In Germany alone, more than 1.6 million employees ride company-provided e-bikes, a testament to the market potential for similar programs here.

The Equitable Commute Project, also based in New York City, is pioneering another model. The group is working with Spring Bank to launch a new financing product that would supply people with micro-loans to cover the cost of e-bikes. Employers would serve as guarantors for their employees, who would repay the loans directly out of their paychecks each month.

Employers Are Key

Employers are in a unique position to instigate the culture shift to more cycling. Our workplaces own so many of our waking hours—including time spent commuting. By taking small steps to accommodate and incentivize bicycling, companies can have a stake in increasing employee wellness, which will only add to their bottom lines. 

To be clear, I’m not talking about simple wellness stipends. Annual dollars given to employees for wellness expenses will largely miss the mark, as those incentives are unlikely to create new cyclists or change people’s commuting habits. What we need are programs that frame cycling-for-perks as a specific employee benefit.

I was always a regular biker, but in the weeks since our benefits program launched, my own bicycling has increased. When I need creamer from the grocery store, forgoing my car in favor of my bike covers the expense. Now, when I bike the five miles to my office, I feel good about my employer for supporting a commute that keeps me active, green, and better connected to the neighborhoods I pass through.

No matter how I feel when I leave my house, I show up at the office happy.

Kiran Herbert is PeopleForBikes’ local programs writer and content manager.