It takes about an hour for media director E. Zach Travis to get from his home in Astoria, Queens, to his job at the offices of PR and marketing shop Imre in Manhattan’s Financial District.
But as the time for going back to the office approaches, Travis said he can’t wait to start commuting again. That’s because he won’t be schlepping an hour both ways on the subway or a commuter bus. Instead, he’ll be pedaling to the office on a new road bike, courtesy of a $600 transportation grant provided by Imre.
“It should be a pretty relaxing commute given that there are bike paths the entire way,” Travis said. “And the additional exercise will be nice.”
Travis is one of the first Imre employees to take advantage of a program meant to help staffers feel safe coming to work by avoiding mass transit.
“I was pretty excited about it,” he said. “I had been toying with the idea of purchasing a new bike, and this made it easier.”
All Imre staffers can get a one-time grant of up to $600 to buy a bike, scooter or accessories like a helmet, lock or bike bag. They can also use the money to purchase a membership or a voucher for a bike- or scooter-share or rental program or a membership at a bike parking garage.
The agency unveiled the program for New York and Philadelphia employees this month, with plans to roll it out as those cities’ offices reopen. Employees would have until the end of the year to sign up. Imre is planning to reopen its New York office on August 3 for employees who wish to go in, while it is waiting on the OK from government officials to reopen Philadelphia.
There are plans to extend the program to Baltimore and Los Angeles. Baltimore reopened to 25% capacity on July 6, but there is no date set for the LA office.
The agency is running the program on an honor system, said agency founder Dave Imre. If staffers say they’re spending the money on bike- or scooter-related transportation, they’ll get the cash. Employees only have to pay it back if they leave the company within six months of receiving the grant.
As the firm plans to reopen its offices, the commute is the most worrying aspect, said Imre. The firm shut down its locations in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Los Angeles on March 12.
“In New York and Philly, particularly, we’ve got issues: 95% of people (55 in New York and 20 in Philly) take mass transit,” he said. “They are interested in coming to the office but the biggest hang-ups were about commuting.”
After talking to employees, Imre discovered they were willing to take to the roads to avoid crowded mass transit, but the cost of bikes, scooter shares and accessories was getting in the way.
“So far, two people in Philly are interested and four are in our New York City office,” Imre said. “The biggest hurdle right now is trying to find a bike. Have you been to a bike shop lately? It is hard to find one.”
By May, bicycle traffic in New York City was up 50% year-over-year, while it increased by 150% in Philadelphia, according to Forbes. From March to mid-June, engineering company Eco-Counter found a 21% jump in U.S. urban area ridership, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Fortunately, Travis had his bike picked out before the program launched.
“I’m planning to purchase a new one this week,” he said. “I’ve been working with a local bike shop in Astoria [to get] the right one for my needs.”