As long as the wind chill is above zero, David LaPorte rides his bike from Roseville to Minneapolis for work.
For the last four months LaPorte, a biochemistry professor at the University of Minnesota, has gotten points and rewards for trips he takes around campus on his bike. But soon, he can also be rewarded for biking in downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul.
The ZAP Twin Cities program started at the University’s Parking and Transportation Services in January after a year-long beta with 100 participants. The program offers incentives to bikers for the number of trips they take per month. Trips are tracked with a chip that is installed onto a bike and read by cellular towers, which send the biker’s ID number to a database.
There are 16 towers set up at the University right now, and four more are expected to be up within the next couple of months, said Steve Sanders, alternative transportation manager in the University’s Parking and Transportation Services.
The University was the first to start the program and the first to use this way of tracking bike rides, Sanders said. The program predicted 350 to 500 riders would sign up in the first year. But within the first four months of the launch, 607 riders have signed up.
“I think the program has a substantial effect on occasional bike users,” LaPorte said. He said hardcore bikers, like him, can give positive reinforcement to bikers on the edge.
The program is also trying to make it easier for bikers to take part. “We’re working on getting more readers out there so people don’t have to go out of their way,” Sanders said.
In June, ZAP will launch in Minneapolis through the Commuter Connection program and in St. Paul through the Smart Trips program.
“Once we knew that the University had done it, we thought it was interesting technology,” said Jessica Treat, executive director of Smart Trips.
St. Paul is currently working to get permits to install the tracking towers. The program coordinators want to provide worthwhile rewards to those taking part in the program. Right now, the funding only allows 125 bikers until more money is secured, Treat said.
“The pinch right now is the incentives,” she said.
The University program offers different incentives for employees and students, Sanders said.
Employees have the chance to earn points they can use for a discount on insurance premiums. Students are able to get bike-related prizes like lights, tools and bells.
Anyone who completes 40 rides receives $65 to use at the campus Bike Center.
“I’m hoping they continue to give away a variety of rewards, so people don’t get all the incentives and have no reason to keep biking,” LaPorte said.
Sanders said they are working to add gift cards for local businesses and restaurants as new incentives.
Since the University is the employer for the program and the participating faculty, it’s easier to offer discounts on insurance. The cities, however, will have to pitch the program to companies, Treat said.
“We think it’s a unique way to do the program,” she said. “It’s actually showing somebody is taking the bike trip.”
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