Encouraging your employees to bike to work can be part of your company's overall "green" strategy or simply a way for your employees to stay fit.
By Brenda Porter-Rockwell
There may be several reasons to encourage your employees to
seek alternate transportation to work. Whether it's carpooling, taking
public transportation, walking or biking, the benefits of not driving a
car everyday are substantial. The most notable benefit is the reduced
strain on the environment. Cutting back on driving not only reduces our
countries dependence on crude oil, but also reduces our carbon
footprint. However, by taking an extra step—and asking your employees to
ride a bike to work—your company will have pride knowing that its also
contributing to the physical health and well-being of the employees that
• Sponsor a local riding club or bike racing team (e.g., employee, local, youth, professional)
How to Encourage Your Employees to Bike to Work: Offer Financial Incentives
Offering employees a cash incentive to get behind your mission is another way to increase participation. Organic beverage maker Honest Tea in Bethesda, Maryland, gives its employees who either bike or walk to work $27.50 extra in their paychecks monthly to offset whatever equipment they need to bike or walk to work. In addition, in the summer of 2007, the company bought all 52 employees who were there at the time Jamis bikes. Since then Honest Tea has made the bikes available for purchase at cost to any of the 105 people they employ across the nation. Similarly, SunRidge Farms, a Pajaro, California-based company offering natural bulk trail mixes, dried fruits, confections and snack blends, gives its employees a $5 cash contribution in their paychecks.
Another option is exploring partnerships with other small businesses in your area to get employees discounts on gear from local bike shops that can be expensive.
Additionally, the Federal Government offers an employee incentive. Business owners looking to encourage their employees to bike to work should look at providing the employee with a qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for some time has offered a transit subsidy to employers to pass on to employees to offset the cost of using alternative transportation to work, such as public transportation. Last year, the IRS extended that same non-taxable benefit to employers to offset the cost of a bicycle to commute to work, explains Bryant.
"The [IRS] doesn't tax the transit subsidy. Employers should check with IRS regulations to determine the amount that can be given per month," says Bryant.
But all of the benefits are not just for employees. Employers should check with their individual municipalities which may encourage biking to work as a way to save on parking spaces and to help employees stay in top physical shape so they take less time off and are more productive at work.
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How to Encourage Your Employees to Bike to Work: Plan Around an Existing Theme
One very simple way to promote the idea of bike riding to work is to launch your program around a pre-existing theme like Bike Month or Earth Day. The idea is that employees will take the challenge and overcome any obstacles and will, hopefully, want to incorporate bike riding as part of their routine commute to work.
In advance of Earth Day 2009, Integrated Marketing Group (IMG) in Salt Lake City, Utah, asked its employees to consider alternative forms of transportation to get to work. Jeff Hilton, co-founder and managing partner of this natural products marketing firm, said all 15 employees participated, of which five rode bikes, including Hilton.
IMG, Hilton says, was "Just trying to 'walk our talk' about environmental responsibility [and] wanting to show that we care." One year later there are still a few employees riding bikes to work and their Earth Day activity has now become an Earth Week activity for IMG where all employees used alternative transportation for the entire week.
Again, check out what your state or local municipality is doing to encourage riding to work during certain monthly events. In Rhode Island a Bike to Work Day event has been held in downtown Providence on the third Friday in May since 2001. The state's Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has been proactively promoting bicycling as a viable transportation option since the department's construction of the states first major bikeway, the East Bay Bicycle Path, in the mid-1980's. RIDOT, according to Steve Church, its bicycle program coordinator, has worked with the state's largest bicycle organization, Narragansett Bay Wheelmen on the development of a statewide bike map, "A Guide to Cycling in the Ocean State," which is available for commuting and recreational cyclists on the Bike RI website.
Similarly, May 13th is Bike to Work Day in Bethesda, Maryland. Honest Tea brings employees out to help man one of the routes rest stops by passing samples of the company's beverages.
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How to Encourage Your Employees to Bike to Work: Make It a Part of the Corporate Culture
Why not make bicycling to work part of your company's overall strategy to become "greener?" About five years ago, SunRidge Farms introduced the concept of biking to work to its employees as it began improvements to the business infrastructure toward being more eco-friendly. Biking to work, says, SunRidge's CEO Morty Cohen, really presented itself as part of an overall opportunity to enable the staff to participate in the company's philosophy and vision to be part of the solution in "making the world a better place." About 20 of the 200 employees currently bike to work.
It also helps if the CEO is willing to set the example for the rest of the staff. Seth Goldman, president and TeaEO of Honest Tea, rides his bike about a mile each way to and from work nearly every day.
"He saw the need to encourage and help other employees who live close enough to ride their bikes to work," recalls Debra Schwartz, director of human resources for Honest Tea. In 2007, when Honest Tea built their current office building, one of the most important things [Goldman] thought to do was have a bathroom with a shower installed.
"Honest Tea is about health and wellness and being environmentally friendly. It's embedded in who we are. When you apply to work at Honest Tea we're not just looking for a skill set, we're looking for that right personality to blend with the office and the culture," explains Schwartz.
Peace Coffee, a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based organic coffee company, takes this idea to the next level, says Melanee Meegan, the company's marketing manager. "Our bike delivery program is something memorable that sets us apart from many other companies… something that definitely improves our business every day," she says. Since 1997, Peace Coffee has delivered coffee beans by bike to their accounts in Minneapolis and St. Paul by bike, year round. In 2007, they added a second full-time bike courier to expand their bike delivery service territory. Each bike logs roughly 100 miles per week and delivers anywhere from 300 to 400 pounds of roasted coffee per day, says Meegan. Many employees also bike to and from work.
Adds Meegan, "Peace Coffee's relationship with bikes started with just a few employees who were really passionate about riding their bikes way back in the days when we only had a very few employees. That passion has been contagious over the years and, while none of those people work here anymore, the bikes live on."
About 12 to 15 employees, out of the 19, ride their bikes to work every single day of the year. And on nice days in the summer, Meegan says, it can be hard to find a staffer with a car.