5 Ways to Fight the SOV Backslide

Late last month, when the Centers for Disease Control issued guidance for businesses to safeguard their employees from COVID-19 while at work, transportation officials across the land did a collective facepalm. 

In short, the CDC urged companies to incentivize employees to drive alone, advice that runs counter to sustainability practices and the agency’s long running messaging around health impacts of tailpipe emissions, vehicle crashes, and car-dependent sedentary lifestyles.

Luckily, they backtracked quickly. The revised guidance includes incentives for biking and walking (in addition to driving solo, unfortunately). But honestly, we think there’s much more that organizations can do to fight the SOV backslide when employees start coming into the office again. Below are five ways to encourage employees to take active modes to work and ensure your workplace is ready to safely welcome them when they arrive.

We’ve already laid out ways to encourage biking during and after the pandemic and general guidance on designing and implementing incentives programs, so here’s more detail:

Offer cash for rides

Out of all the potential incentives you can offer your employees, cash is (unsurprisingly) recognized as the most valuable. It’s versatile and seen as a “no strings attached” reward. There are many platforms you can enlist to track employee rides.

Give your employees bikes

 The #1 reason given for not bicycling is a lack of access to a bicycle, according to a survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Giving your employees full or partial subsidies to purchase bicycles quickly remedies this. You could also launch a loaner bike pilot program to help get employees started.

Award Prizes or PTO

If cash, bike subsidies or loaners aren’t feasible, what about prize drawings, $5 gift cards, or even paid time off? The City of Austin, for instance, granted employees PTO in exchange for non-drive alone commute trips during a pilot period. At the end of the pilot, the city found that 53% of participants made a positive shift to change their drive-alone habit.

Celebrate cyclists who ride on day 1

If possible, reward cyclists who ride to work on their first day back with some sort of public display — maybe it’s a free coffee or breakfast burrito from a food truck parked at the entrance. Or a socially-distanced check-in booth where employees collect a prize. For instance, one of our clients is planning to hold a drawing for an e-bike for those who bike to work their first week back. These efforts show the entire workforce that you support biking to work (and make it look like lots of fun too).

Because bikes can use vehicle or pedestrian entrances to buildings, they often have many routes into a workplace. Identify all of the common bike routes to your facility and any COVID-19 issues on the routes, such as bottlenecks where riders end up crowding or are surprised because they can’t see others coming around a corner. Adjust, prioritize, make paths one way, or close these bicycle routes accordingly.

Bicycle parking areas — including bike rooms, cages, shelters and outdoor racks — are small spaces by design, making social distancing difficult at peak commute hours. Here is guidance on how to address COVID-19 concerns in these spaces:

Alter parking areas

Considering the average time it takes to park a bike is ten seconds to one minute, we suggest staggering work start times; making every other or every third rack available; and/or creating one way routes.

Post signage that addresses social distancing

In bike parking areas, instruct users to park as far away from other users as possible; to only touch one’s own bike and gear; and provide information on how and how often the spaces and surfaces are cleaned.

Consider valet

For high-use bike parking, consider a temporary bike valet service where only the valet attendants go in and out of a bike parking room.

Create new policies

With fewer employees working on site, consider allowing employees to bring their bikes to unused space adjacent to their working area or installing temporary vertical or wall bike racks in open areas.

Ensure users are able to be six feet apart in locker rooms, showers, and restrooms. Clean and disinfect showers daily, preferably after the morning commute hours and in the evening after employees have left for the day. New construction considerations should focus on ventilation, designing for one-way traffic with multiple entrances/exits, minimizing touch points and replacing curtains with doors.

Humans generally have a hard time coping with change, so communicating any adjustments to your facility’s bicycle parking infrastructure (and corresponding policies) is a vital step in prepping your offices for a post-pandemic world. We suggest including FAQ’s on commute-specific questions; holding transportation town halls or all hands meetings; and fielding questions 1:1 to make the transition a smooth one.

Bikes Make Life Better is dedicated to helping employees at large organizations use bikes for healthy sustainable transportation. They’ve helped design bike programs, facilities, and fleets for Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Netflix, Stanford, Uber and others.