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Cash incentives spur bike commutes at OHSU

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Chart shows annual payouts from OHSU’s bike incentive program since 2008.

How do you encourage people to bike to work? Simple. Cold hard cash.

Since 2005, Oregon Health & Science University has used cash incentives to encourage their employees to bike to work. Between 2008 and 2011 alone, OHSU will have given out over $523,00 through their Bike Incentive Program.

Screenshot of OHSU’s bike incentive program website.

The program encourages employees to use a bicycle for at least two miles of their commute (so as to encourage multi-modal trips as well). OHSU also provides a dedicated website for participants to log their trips and keep track of their progress (the site is open to employees only). The web portal also has an interactive map of bicycling facilities on OHSU’s sprawling campus in the hills just south of downtown Portland.

Bike commuters can get up to $50 cash for every 30 trips logged.

For every 30 bike trips logged, participants can choose from one of three incentives; either a reimbursement of one month’s worth of car parking (if they also drive), $35 if they also get a transit pass subsidy, or if they bike and do not partake in the transit or car parking programs, participants receive $50. (Learn more about the program in this PDF.)

In addition to cash, OHSU also provides secure bike parking, access to showers, free tubes, access to tools, and free route maps.

John Landolfe
(Photos © J. Maus)

John Landolfe, who works in OHSU’s Transportation Options department, says that as of April 8th, there were a total of 1,201 people enrolled in the bike incentive program, a whopping 10% or so of OHSU’s 12,400 total employees. In total, participants have logged over 301,000 miles and over 42,000 trips. (Interestingly, 9 miles was the average trip length, and there were 408 users logging 10+ miles per day.)

By the end of 2011, Landolfe estimates OHSU will have handed out $183,000 in cash to bike commuters.

Landolfe says the cash plays a big role in motivating people to bike to work. When asked directly, 43% of program participants say the cash incentive is one of their top three primary motivators (physical/mental health is #1, what did you expect from OHSU employees?!).

OHSU employee Dave Feucht participates in the program. He says the $50 incentive is “A great bonus, and it more than pays for my usual maintenance.” Feucht figures he’d bike regardless of the cash, but says if he had to choose between paying $150 a month for car parking, or getting $50 for riding his bike, he’d go by bike.

“I can put up with getting up a half-hour earlier or getting wet from time to time for an extra $200 a month, that’s a lot of money.”

Bike parking at OHSU.

Biking at OHSU has skyrocketed since the launch of the bike incentive program, but Landolfe says it’s hard to pin all the increase on their program. “It’s a hard trend to extrapolate,” he tells us, “because biking also took off city-wide at the same time and the Aerial Tram opened shortly thereafter.”

Landolfe says the Aerial Tram has “absolutely had an impact” on ridership numbers. Roughly 300 people bring their bike on the tram each day and another 200 park their bikes within three minutes of the tram. “It’s easier to persuade people to bike if they don’t have to overcome a steep hill every morning before a long shift.”

Landolfe thinks cash is what keeps people coming back to the web portal to log their trips. “Without cash, people probably wouldn’t bother to give us a continuous stream of data year round. We play up the psychological factor by providing a countdown to the next incentive, reminders of their general money savings, and what the community is doing as a whole.” (Check out the screenshot above.)

Like their nearby neighbors at Portland State University, OHSU has the encouragement game figured out. Learn more on OHSU’s biking information page.

— News intern Patrick Croasdaile contributed reporting to this story.

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