By Zach Cincotta
San Francisco has recently welcomed a number of bicycle-friendly improvements, including the new green, fully separated bike lane on Market Street, hundreds of new bike parking racks and more bike lanes throughout the city, all with an eye toward urging your friends and neighbors to commute to work by bike. Several private employers also recognize the advantages of a workforce that gets a little exercise on their way to and from the office every day. For example, many employers take a cue from the public sector and provide indoor secure bike parking. Recently, a few progressive companies have proactively developed employee benefits aimed at encouraging staff to hop on a bike in the morning. Some employers even advocate biking during work.
Autodesk, a software engineering company with some 1,300 employees in the Bay Area, has long provided their employees with ample secure bike parking. But Autodesk decided to take this bicycling endorsement one step further in January of this year, when they contracted with Commuter Check to offer their bike-commuting employees a $20 monthly stipend to be used at bike shops for gear, repairs and upgrades. Unlike most pre-tax commuter vouchers, Autodesk actually gets the tab for this employee benefit. All an employee must do is commute by bike a substantial portion of the time, and Autodesk will foot the bill.
Dozens of employees have jumped at Autodesk’s offer, with more signing up every month. “I am so glad that Autodesk sponsors this program,” says Pam Polizzi, a Senior Usability Engineer for Autodesk. “I can use my commuter checks for little things like bike lights, and can put them toward bike maintenance and larger items like a jacket for keeping me dry in the rainy season.”
“As soon as our commuter check vendor announced that they could start administering the tax-free bicycle commuter program, it was an easy decision for us to roll out the program to our employees,” says Pat Romeo, Autodesk’s Benefits Administrator. “Autodesk is very committed to sustainability, and we place a lot of emphasis on wellness, so we felt this program aligned quite nicely with both perspectives. If we can encourage employees to bike to work, even if it means paying for each employee’s $20 per month bicycle voucher, from our perspective it’s well worth the cost.”
Other employers provide bicycle benefits to employees not only as a means of maintaining a healthy workforce and reducing their carbon footprint, but also simply as a matter of convenience. Arup is a design and engineering firm based in the United Kingdom with approximately 200 employees in San Francisco. Like Autodesk, Arup provides indoor secure bike parking for employees, but the company also recently faced an interesting transit challenge that could only be solved by a bicycle.
As a result of a contract with UCSF to design the new Mission Bay facilities, Arup’s employees must travel from their Mission Street office to attend meetings in Mission Bay on a regular basis. Faced with the unappealingly high cost of gas-guzzling cab rides, Arup and UCSF came up with a decidedly simple and environment-friendly idea: UCSF provides a small fleet of hybrid bikes to Arup’s staff, replete with helmets and bike locks, with which to maneuver city streets on the way to that all-important meeting on Third Street. “Arupians,” as employees proudly refer to themselves, simply sign out a bike, pop down the elevator and take to the streets. In light of the overwhelming success and popularity of this project-specific program, Arup has looked into expanding their fleet so Arupians always have a bike on hand to get anywhere in the city.
Smart employers like Autodesk and Arup provide a model for other Bay Area companies to reap the benefits of a healthy, happy and focused staff.