These days, big data is the holy grail for so many industries, and the transportation field is no exception. When fitness tracking app Strava released its “Global Heatmap,” it got so many calls from planners and activists that it packaged the data and now sells it as “Strava Metro.” Currently, 125 organizations around the world use Strava’s proprietary data, including the Departments of Transportation in Colorado, Texas, and Florida.
Companies also have a growing need to track the number of commuters—including bikers—coming from and going to their worksites. This data can help justify an in-house TDM program, make a bid for more bike parking, or show local government officials that an employer is shifting its mode split away from drive alone.
Counting cyclists is just the tip of the iceberg: Knowing employee commute patterns and habits makes it possible to target specific groups with bike help or incentives.
There are two main ways to track the number of bicyclists coming to your workplace: software or physical tracking devices plus software. The different systems are discussed below.
One app to rule them all
Just kidding! As with all technology, you have many options to choose from with positives and negatives to each approach. The two “biggies” in the arena of commute tracking are RideAmigos and Luum. In both cases, an organization pays a licensing fee for its employees to use the software, which is branded and customized according to the organization’s specifications.
With RideAmigos, an employee creates an account within their specific employer network and manually logs how they traveled to and from work on any given day. From here, an administrator can slice and dice the data to tease out trends or organize and market to groups according to a shared data point, like home location. This comes in handy when you need to, say, communicate about a proposed new bike path that runs through a specific area.
Other useful features include the ability to post events, create and send surveys, connect commuters seeking a bike buddy, and reward commuters with incentives for choosing not to drive alone.
The main bugaboo for RideAmigos (and many other apps like it) is that users must self report their commute modes, a tricky task considering workers have finite time and motivation during the workday. Incentives, which can be administered via the tool, are a helpful carrot. And recently, RideAmigos released a way to sync an account with Strava or Moves, so activities are automatically recorded on the platform.
Our RideAmigos wishlist includes the ability to coordinate group bike rides and match bike buddies by way of map icons. Although users are able to find “bikepools” on the app, the approach is rather clunky.
Who uses RideAmigos?
Google, MIT, Stanford Research Park
Luum, a direct competitor to RideAmigos, offers similar functionality. It doesn’t score as high as RideAmigos on helping connect cyclists, but it has a leg up on certain features. Its main bright spot is the ability to charge users for driving alone, then take those funds and reward others for choosing a greener mode, à la “feebates.” The Gates Foundation, a Luum customer, took its drive alone rate from 90 percent to 34 percent in two years by charging for parking and offering a $3 daily reward for not driving alone.
Seattle Children’s Hospital subscribes to a similar feebate model. Drew Dresman, a Transportation Planner for Seattle Children’s Hospital says sticking a concrete price tag on daily driving has been effective in reducing the drive alone rate for his org. Otherwise, people tend not to consider the expense: “All car costs are hidden, so when you’re waking up and trying to figure out what you have to do, you don’t think about the transmission you’ll have to get replaced in three months.”
Luum facilitates feebates, distributes transit passes, and integrates everything with payroll saving you a mighty headache. It also plays nice with your company’s existing HR software. Like RideAmigos, Luum provides a dashboard for parsing the commute data it collects and a means for communicating with employees and groups.
Another area where Luum excels is in its use of challenges and rewards. It allows users to join challenges—either pitting them against fellow commuters or pushing them towards a goal, like 10 bike trips per month—and awards prizes to winners or those that hit the goal. The challenge / reward model is straightforward, and helps breathe levity into the commute grind.
And Luum’s UI is just plain good. It’s colorful icons and layout are easy to understand and navigate. Plus its mobile app is more of the same: super duper easy to use.
Who uses Luum?
Seattle Children’s Hospital, The Gates Foundation, Delta Dental
From a corporate point of view, Strava is most helpful when it can integrate with other tracking platforms. This is because while Strava is the most widely-used app for tracking bike rides (and it now does distinguish between commute and rec rides), it can’t segment users and collect data on employees at a specific organization.
But, because everyone and their mother uses Strava, it can be extremely powerful when used in tandem with other platforms—i.e. if you can get those already using Strava to sync their account with RideAmigos, then you’ll probably have a good pulse on what your organization’s cycling community is up to.
Who uses Strava?
Everyone and their mother, departments of transportation in Colorado, Utah, Texas, Florida, New Hampshire, and Vermont
Ride Report is the Strava for people who don’t care about their FTP (that’s Functional Threshold Power) and other metrics that the latter provides. Instead, this free app runs in the background, automatically detects when you start and stop a trip, and then tracks your bike commute automatically.
The app may ask you to rate your “stress level” after you’re through, but that’s it—no need to pull up the app yourself or upload your ride from your Garmin. Aggregated ride and stress data can then be used by cities—and organizations hopefully soon—to better plan bike infrastructure and programming.
After launching several years ago in Portland, Oregon, Ride Report is working on extending its reach. In November it announced a partnership with the city of Oakland to help planners understand biking behavior and preferences.
Michael Schwartz, Director of Transportation Planning for Ride Report, says the company is edging closer to supporting businesses and other organizations with their TDM programs: First up is a project with the Portland Bureau of Transportation and key employers that addresses parking districts in the city. Then Schwartz hopes to partner on a large mixed-use development.
Ride Report’s data is mostly kept on the city planner’s desk. But with the recent creation of incentives—digital trophies, personalized messages of encouragement and rewards—for events like 30 Days of Biking and the Bike More Challenge, Ride Report is really primed for use by employers looking to incentivize their employees to bike.
So although Ride Report is still in the proof-of-concept phase when it comes to employer TDM, it has great potential in this space. Not having to poke employees to log their commutes is a huge win.
Who uses Ride Report?
City planners, especially those in Atlanta, Austin, Beaverton, Portland, Oakland, and Raleigh, individual bikers
Bike tracking: The hardware approach
With most apps, administrators often face the hurdle of getting bikers to actually use them. Between downloading, account set up, and then daily tracking, some users decide it’s just not worth the trouble, and will go back to quietly biking to work, or worse, driving alone.
There are a few hardware tracking solutions that remove some or all of these barriers. And the two prominent ones are made by two competing bike rack manufacturers: Dero ZAP and The Hub by Saris.
Dero’s concept for bike tracking is simple: Step 1) Tag a bike with a small RFID that affixes to the spokes. Step 2) Place a “station” in a spot where most cyclists will pass through on their way to their desks. Each time a tagged bike passes the station, the station will make an electronic tick mark. Step 3) Log into the web app and check out the data.
Like RideAmigos and Luum, the web platform allows admins to generate reports, communicate directly with riders, and manage incentives. Individual users may also log in to see their stats or see announcements admins post.
The University of Minnesota used Dero ZAP to award bike commuters with the same health insurance discount it offers faculty and staff that participate in fitness and wellness activities on campus.
What do UM admins do with the aggregate data? Lots, as it turns out. UM has been using Dero ZAP for six years and is up to 4,500 bike commuters and counting. Right now, the university is working on anonymizing the data so grad students can crunch numbers and inform new bike infrastructure projects. UM also uses the data to do GIS mapping, bike-weather related studies, and gamification studies.
The downside to using RFIDs, like those of the ZAP, is that someone—aka you or your company—will need to put them on the bikes or distribute them to riders so they can do it themselves. New hires will also need RFIDs, making the process an ongoing administrative pain point. The upside is that after the initial onboarding, there’s nothing more a cyclist needs to do and the tracking is automatic, so the data quality is high.
Also, you need a “station” at every entry point in order to capture all of your bike commuters. If your bike commuters arrive via different pathways and/or to different buildings, then Dero ZAP can get expensive.
Who uses Dero ZAP?
The University of Minnesota and 3M, among others.
The Hub by Saris
The Hub employs a similar approach to Dero, but instead of an RFID attached to the bike itself, this system uses a card and scanner installed in a bike room or other area cyclists congregate. A registered biker scans their card each time they commute by bike, populating a dashboard administrators may use to dole out incentives.
The Hub is intended to help individual users understand their impact by giving bike commute stats—like CO2 saved—and join teams that may be pitted against one another or awarded prizes. Although The Hub saves the pain of installing hardware on each individual bike, it doesn’t totally avoid the self-reporting issue faced by the software guys: A user still needs to remember to bring their card and then fish it out of their pack to scan it for the system to be effective.
Who uses The Hub by Saris?
Kimberly-Clark offers the program to their employees as well as 60+ school across the country.
Choosing the right tech
Finding the right tracking technology for your situation isn’t easy, so it’s good to test multiple approaches before putting effort and money into a single solution.
Be sure to request demos or free trials of software that may fit your company’s use case. Ask if you can try software with a small group of beta testers before you buy. Make sure that you’re comfortable with the admin functions and how data is displayed. And be sure to discuss feature requests up front—it’s possible that your desired feature is already in development.
If the solution requires hardware, again see if you can try before you buy or at the very least, talk to organizations that are already using the technology. And be cognizant of potentially escalating costs as your program expands.
Lastly, ask your friends at other companies what tools they’re using for commute tracking. You’ll likely get good “in the trenches” information to guide you on the path to the perfect tech.
By Anna Walters, for Bikes Make Life Better
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