As part of a larger effort to discourage driving, the City of Boston is offering its employees a new benefits package incentivizing public transit use.
Earlier this year, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced that the City of Boston will roll out a new benefits package for city employees as part of a larger effort to discourage driving and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The new benefits package incentivizes public transit by paying 65% of each employee’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) monthly pass of their choice, translating to significant cost savings compared to the pre-tax discount employees received prior. Notably, the new package also offers free Bluebikes bike share memberships to employees, who before received a widely-unknown 50% discount on an annual pass. What’s more, city employees are now able to claim active mobility expenses as part of their annual fitness reimbursement.
With some 18,000 people on its payroll, the city is one of the largest employers in Boston and the hope is that by setting an example, other large employers will follow suit. The group that initiated the new benefits package — the Bicycle and Active Transportation Employee Resource Group — made the case that the city was doing more to incentivize employees to drive to work than use transit, walk, or bike, which ran counter to its climate goals.
Once the city got on board, its Office of Human Resources got involved, conducting a survey to determine what was needed to elicit behavior change. “People did explicitly say, in order to change their behavior, subsidized benefits for bike and MBTA and other modes of active transit is exactly what would change their behavior,” said Alex Lawrence, the office’s chief people officer, speaking with the Boston Herald. Lawrence went on to say that not only will the policy help decrease carbon emissions but it doubles as a retention and recruiting tool for the city.
Notably, within just a week of announcing the changes, Bluebikes memberships went from under 100 to 574, a number that’s sure to keep growing as the weather warms and the benefit catches on.
The concept isn’t completely novel: In Washington, D.C., government employees are eligible for a free annual Capital Bikeshare membership. And in Philadelphia, a partnership between Indego bike share and benefits operator jawnt means that more employees across the city can now ride for free as part of their transit benefits package. Most municipalities, however, don’t cover employee transit benefits, and even fewer include bike share. Imagine if every city — from Los Angeles to Houston to New York — did. The implications would be huge.
Transportation insecurity is an issue for one in four Americans and notably, car owners are not immune from transportation insecurity, due to the costs associated with gas, insurance, and maintenance, as well as the need to share one car amongst many household members. If a person isn’t able to regularly move in a safe or timely manner, they might not be able to get to a job, let alone take their children to school, show up to doctor’s appointments, or even bring home groceries. Most Americans suffering from transportation insecurity are BIPOC, urban dwellers — the more cities and employers in general that step up to support them, the better.
Even before Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s tenure, the City of Boston considered bike share to be an integral part of the city’s transportation system. Bluebikes are currently in every Boston neighborhood and increasingly, throughout its suburbs. This initiative further showcases the city’s commitment to using bike share as a tool to lower greenhouse gas emissions by changing people’s travel behaviors. We hope more cities follow suit.
The Better Bike Share Partnership is funded by The JPB Foundation as a collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Got a question or a story idea? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.