My three-year old daughter is one of the newest participants in Bicycle Benefits, a national program that rewards people for biking to participating businesses. Bikers pay $5 for a sticker that adheres to their helmet, which they present at participating businesses for a discount that is determined by each business.
My daughter can now save 5 percent on her grocery bill from our coop grocery store or $.50 on a cup of coffee from the cafe down the street (if she wants to skip her nap). It's a fabulous initiative that encourages the business community to support pedal power, while promoting sustainable transportation and safe practices (wearing a bike helmet).
Participating businesses slap the Bicycle Benefits sticker on the front door to notify customers that they are part of the network. When checking out, participants show their helmet, which in turn raises the visibility of bikers -both to the business and other customers. This boosted visibility can have a ripple effect.
“The business community is a strong voice in the community,” says Ian Klepetar, the mastermind behind Bicycle Benefits. “To get their backing in bike [infrastructure] initiatives and increase the number of customers arriving by bicycle is very important when talking about taking out a lane [of traffic] to put in a bike lane. Businesses don’t get as nervous when many of their customers are arriving by bike.”
Klepetar is on a mission to make cities more livable and is sometimes referred to as Johnny Appleseed for the bicycle. He has spent the last few years biking from city to city to spread the Bicycle Benefits program, which now thrives in Madison, Wisconsin, Seattle, Boston, Burlington, Vermont, and Bozeman, Montana. As long as member businesses have a supply of stickers to sell to new participants and the website is maintained, the program pretty much runs itself.
Bicycle Benefits rewards people for biking to businesses, but it can foster a larger shift in transportation choices. “The percentage of our trips that are to and from businesses are really quite high,” explains Klepetar. “If you get people regularly running errands by bike, it can also encourage them to commute to work that way.”
Klepetar points out that when businesses provide free automobile parking, it actually comes at a cost to all customers, thus it makes sense to offer something to bikers. “If someone buys a $20 meal and the restaurant is actually paying out money for that parking area, you are essentially paying more for that meal to pay for that parking spot. Bicycle Benefits creates visibility that the price often times includes the price of a parking spot and the program gives preferential treatment to those arriving by local transportation, which also benefits the larger community.”
Many businesses have really embraced the concept. "We love to support people using bicycles to get around and shop with," says Doreen Kunert, an employee at the Community Pharmacy, a participating business located in Madison, Wisconsin. "It avoids congestion, especially downtown, and helps the environment. And we really just love bikes here."
In addition to offering an incentive program to customers, the business community can also encourage bike riding by providing an incentive program to employees for biking to work, providing showers for employees, and making its properties more bike-friendly, and by providing ample and conveniently located bike racks.
The Willy Street Coop in Madison, Wisconsin, for example, provides a bike rack with additional space on one side of it reserved for bikes with trailers and has bike trailers available to borrow free-of-charge to members. It also provides a bike rack immediately outside the employee entrance.
Encouraging biking can also benefit the bottom line. Bike-friendly initiatives may boost customer loyalty, decrease the demand on the parking lot, ease congestion and even boost relations with neighbors in urban areas by freeing up street parking and easing congestion.
If you are inspired, you can help bring Bicycle Benefits to your community- just contact Ian.
Sarah Lozanova is the director of marketing for Bubble Train Toys and is passionate about the new green economy. She is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Natural Home & Garden, Energy International Quarterly, Triple Pundit, Green Business Quarterly, Renewable Energy World, and Green Business Quarterly. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative.
Photo credit: Sarah Lozanova
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.