How Employers Can Use Incentives to Promote Bike Ridership

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/

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.


Comments (3)

  1. Scott Permalink  | Nov 19, 2010 05:25pm

    OHSU’s bike incentive program is a narrowly crafted tool designed to solve a problem the institution has with city requirements. They have a parking problem. If they don’t meet city requirements for reducing driving to OHSU they may face limits on their next expansion.

    The bike incentive program is not driven by an interest in reducing pollution or improving health. If the city lifted its requirements, I suspect OHSU would drop the program.

  2. John Landolfe Permalink  | Nov 23, 2010 04:12pm

    Hi Scott,
    You’re partially correct that OHSU’s initial motivating factor was to reduce vehicles driving to, and parking on, Marquam Hill. However, it now includes all OHSU sites. That’s more than 20, including the sprawling West Campus (with ample, free parking). Users can now also calculate stats for health & environmental impact, etc. The foot in the door was parking but it’s not the program’s limit.

    The bike program has already survived significant changes to campus parking & transit infrastructure—not to mention an economic meltdown. The mission isn’t dependant on any specific city requirements. I don’t expect to sell you on OHSU’s particular brand but I think a focused mission on quantifiable issues can be a good thing.

  3. Michelle Permalink  | Dec 01, 2010 03:42pm

    I believe that people really do respond to incentives, whether they are concrete (like, money) or symbolic (like, attention and recognition).

    My bank, First Tech Credit Union, offers me cold hard cash every time I visit it, to repay me for…parking my car. It just breaks my heart. If I ask for $2.30 reimbursement for my MAX ticket (they are located on the MAX line), they say no.

    These little incentives, at workplaces and businesses, add up tremendously and (in this case) destructively. I have seen many businesses spend money with one hand on promoting “sustainability,” and then spend money with the other to promote driving alone to work.

    So I really appreciate it when businesses get serious about incentives for sustainable behavior. And I spend my money there, whenever I have a choice.