How the world’s coolest companies win using bike fleets
In recent years, hundreds of cities worldwide have rolled out bike share programs, putting bikes where people need them for short, fast trips. Now a number of innovative companies including Facebook, LinkedIn and Google have their own bike fleets to help employees stay mobile.
The drain of getting around
Every day, millions of workers worldwide must move beyond their own office building for meetings, lunch, and errands. This often involves driving a car and finding parking; waiting for and taking a shuttle; or catching public transit and walking from the station or stop.
Think of all that time wasted, not to mention the personal and environmental drain, simply to get around during the workday.
Innovative companies, particularly in the tech sector, have improved efficiencies and quality of life through the addition of company-owned bike fleets. Bikes have become a critical and cost-effective improvement to many corporate campuses and urban locations.
The boon of a bike program
When organizations provide bikes, people ride them. And when they ride them, the benefits start to roll in (pun intended!).
First come the immediate time savings. Bikes have proven to be the fastest transportation available whenever congestion is an issue, even without parking issues. They are also ready to go when you are. No need to wait for the next shuttle, bus or train.
Extensive research has shown that the second people get up and move around during the workday, their productivity increases. In addition, there’s no doubt that even just a minute or two of fresh air is a way to clear one’s head and enter a meeting refreshed.
Weather turns out to not be a key issue. Recent research indicates that climate is not a central factor in the cycling friendliness of cities, and that extends to company campuses, too. As long as basics like snow clearance are taken care of, bike fleets keep their advantages year round. For instance, Minneapolis is one of the leading bike cities in the country, despite its climate.
Companies increasingly invest in bike fleets because they make economic sense. They’re environmentally friendly, healthy, efficient and socially responsible. They pay for themselves many times over in healthcare, parking and transit savings as well as in increased productivity and improved morale. Companies with bike fleets will tell you that they are an important employee benefit.
The inspiring examples
Google led the way in 2008 with the roll out of their first fleet, featuring cruiser-style bikes. In 2010 they changed to the now-famous multi-color GBikes with little 20” wheels. These bikes are very popular and useful, but down at the ‘playful’ end of the spectrum.
Google recently began to deploy a replacement, a more standard upright city bike, and over time their Mountain View CA campus fleet of 1,000 will shift entirely to the new model. The new bike comes out of a contest that sought to update the fleet but keep it within its cost and durability constraints, so it’s still a simple bike, ideal for the thousands of short trips around campus, and easy and cost-effective to maintain for years to come.
LinkedIn uses a bikes fleet across their two campuses in Sunnyvale and Mountain View. The bikes are simple ‘cruiser’ types, and employees use them to get to meetings, lunch and run errands. Interestingly, since LinkedIn and Google buildings dot the map in a patchwork in one section of Mountain View, the bikes from one company are sometimes used by employees of the other! LinkedIn will soon launch an entirely new fleet and program.
If you’re near their campus, you’ll notice that their bikes are in constant motion. Although spread out due to the company’s expansion in recent years, the campus has a network of flat and low-speed streets. Employees used their cars or shuttles to get to meetings in the past, but now can cut down on travel time by taking a bike.
Facebook, by contrast, has a new campus in Menlo Park, CA, with buildings that all face a central courtyard bustling with activity. Pedestrians hustle down paved walkways while cyclists buzz along on the new Facebook fleet bikes, heading to meetings, the cafe, or the on-campus Philz Coffee. The bikes aren’t locked so it’s easy for employees to grab one whenever they need it.
“It’s hard to imagine the new courtyard without the bikes,” one rider said. “We all use them constantly because it’s a way faster way to get around.”
Nearby in South San Francisco, Genentech has a different solution. Since their campus is semi-public, they’ve used more expensive bikes from B-cycle (perhaps better-known for municipal fleets such as in Denver) in a card-swipe and kiosk system. This system gives the operator a lot more control (since the bikes have to be returned to stations) but at much higher cost. The bike stations are arranged around the ring of campus much the same way the Genentech shuttle bus service is.
The intangible rewards
One day as I was coming out of a meeting on a company campus in Silicon Valley, I witnessed a group of engineers waiting at a campus shuttle stop. As the bus idled, they were trying to convince their shy colleague to take one of the campus bikes instead of the shuttle. Holding a giant laptop tightly in his arms, he looked sceptically at the bike. Finally, he put his laptop in the basket and got on. As he rode off, a little wobbly at first, then grinning wildly, his fellow engineers erupted in applause. That was a win for him, and an indicator of how company bike fleets provide immediate, if intangible, rewards.
In just a couple of years, bike fleets have revealed themselves as a bit of corporate magic, yielding significant and far-reaching benefits across transportation, health, and sustainability.
Note: Bikes Make Life Better consulted on many of the above programs.