The Case for Making Bike-Share Membership an Employee Benefit
New York-based tech company Percolate, a small marketing firm that helps businesses create content pegged to social media, takes pride in promoting an active employee lifestyle. The company sponsors a variety of health and fitness clubs started by workers — running, bike riding, yoga, and cooking, to name a few. Earlier this month a handful of employees rode bicycles anywhere from 30 to 155 miles out to Montauk, on the eastern tip of Long Island.
"The goal of all these things is to be very mindful of the fact that we're working with talented people in a high-intensity start-up culture, and more than anything we want to make sure we're keeping them healthy," says co-founder James Gross. "That's not just making sure they don't have diabetes or heart attacks — we mean are they mentally healthy, clearing their minds and getting out and doing active things."
So when Gross and business partner Noah Brier first heard about Citi Bike, New York's new bike-sharing system, they figured it was in keeping with the Percolate spirit to cover the annual fees for any of their 47 staff members who wanted a membership. After announcing the benefit at a meeting last week, Gross tweeted the decision, saying it "feels right." Pretty soon he had a bunch of retweets and favorites, and received a general response he describes as "overwhelming and all really positive."
"It seemed like no one else had done this," he says.
Whether or not it's the very first, Percolate is certainly part of an early wave of New York City companies willing to foot the bill for workers who plan to commute by bike-share. In May, Alex Goldmark at WNYC reported that more than 30 companies had contacted Citi Bike about possible corporate memberships, including the non-profit Regional Plan Association. Crain's New York also reported that media giant Hearst would let staffers use part of their annual health account toward Citi Bike costs.
Of course, corporate memberships aren't exclusive to Citi Bike. Capital Bikeshare (Washington, D.C.), B-cycle (Kansas City and Denver), and Hubway (Boston) are just a few U.S. bike-share programs that describe company options right on their website. Then again, no U.S. bike-share has been greeted with as much vitriol as Citi Bike, so it bears repeating that not everyone is an enemy.
Gross sees Citi Bike as the latest perk in the broader recruiting pitch New York City is making to tech industry workers — right up there with Cornell's new tech campus on Roosevelt Island. San Francisco is set to launch its own bike-share program soon, but workers could hardly ride in from the city to Silicon Valley. Beyond that, Gross sees bike-share culture as commuter catnip to the engineering mind.
"It's geared toward people who really care about things like understanding how networks work, and understanding how traffic patterns flow, and understanding how bikes can really change a city in a positive way," he says. "I just think these are the types of things smart people really are attracted by."
Percolate's SoHo office has three bike-share stations right nearby, and Gross says he's already noticed several employees riding into work who didn't bike in the past. That's exactly the type of person he hoped the company benefit would encourage. Though Gross owns a bike, he's been taking Citi Bike from his apartment in the West Village to set an example — something he hopes the company itself will become.
"The more [bike riders] that are out there makes a much safer city overall," he says. (Indeed, research does support the safety-in-numbers theory to bike safety.) "It's great if Percolate can help make that movement happen."