Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Halls of summer

It's raining today. Just like it has been all week. The low-lying lands are ponding quite nicely. My shoes are still wet. The commutes have been cold. The bus is overheated in the mornings, but not overcrowded.

Thankfully, apart from the rain, the road has been uneventful all the way around. A moose here and there, but nothing to note.

And nothing to note is a good place to be. It means that the commute, particularly the bus portion, is becoming just a normal part of my day. In fact, I am starting to get to the point where I automatically wake up at 4, before the alarm even goes off.

As I commute more and more using multi-modal means, I am thinking about and searching for ways that I can suggest my company support and encourage those who want to commute via alternate means. I've discussed this a bit before, but I want to go into more depth here and start to clarify some of my ideas on the topic.

First, my company has taken some good steps already. In our previous building, we had access to showers and indoor bike parking, though not enough of either, which was due more to the lease we had and the fact that there simply wasn't room for more showers or indoor parking.

We've recently moved to a new building with lots of room and through the remodel process, we've been able to start the process of putting in ample showers for those who want or need to use them. One thing we don't have at the new building is indoor bike parking. We have two stout racks outdoors, and they are covered - so a fair compromise. There may be some plans still underway for enclosed parking that is more secure, as there are a lot of bike thefts in Anchorage and, particularly in that part of town. During the day isn't much of an issue, but sometimes there is a need to leave your bike overnight.

What else do I think that my company can do to get more of its employees commuting by alternate means? I read this story about how Texas Instruments has done it, and I think that many of their ideas can be applied to my company.

Two that particularly stand out to me are the implementation of a bike commuting themed chat room on the intranet pages. These become great sources of shared information for all and, particularly as my company farms us out to different companies throughout the Anchorage bowl, can create a good sense of community even when we don't see each other face to face.

The other item that appeals to me is the repair stand. As any regular commuter can tell you, there are times when you have to perform some maintenance whether you want to or not - changing a tube, fixing a broken chain, truing up a wheel. Even just having a place to adjust shifting can prove a lifesaver.

I think another way to encourage employees to commute through alternate means is through a reimbursement program. I ran across a news story a few months back out of Tennessee. One company there pays their employees 4 dollars a day for biking, walking, or taking public transit to the office and 2 dollars for carpooling. Of course, cash is king. That's why we go to work every day, isn't it?

Rather than just giving a cash reimbursement for alternate commuting, why not offer a sort of Alternate Commuting savings account wherein once a quarter commuting reimbursements are paid out, but are paid out in gift cards to places like REI, local bike shops, running goods stores, or even to the local coffee shop? Cash could always be an option, but there are certainly times when the purchase of a new piece of gear is just what someone needs to keep motivated. By offering the reimbursement in a form other than cash, it can't easily be spent on things like bills or gas. It then serves as a clear reward for the commuting.

And the total outlay per employee isn't that great. If one were to commute by alternate route every working day for the year (I didn't take into account holidays) the total reimbursement at 4 dollars a day is only 1040 dollars.

What does the business get for their money? Reduced absenteeism, fewer health insurance claims, more productive and happy employees, and, from what I hear, there are possibly some tax breaks available. So it becomes a win/win. The business gains and the employee gains.

Another thought, since our employees are indeed all over town throughout the course of the day, often beginning at the home office, then heading to one or more client sites, many of which are within 4 miles of the office, is the idea of having a small number of company-owned bikes and locks that employees can hop on and ride to a client site. With our central location, this seems like a great way to encourage folks to ride during those times when it would be quicker than to walk.

Being that our company is full of map geeks, I think I need to enlist some of them to build me a map with the location of all of our clients so that we can see how many of those client sites are bikable.

I'm going to keep circling around these ideas until I have them firmly cemented into a form that I can use to propose them to my employers. Stay tuned.

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