In summer 2015, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) contracted with Yay Bikes! to implement a Downtown Modal Shift Pilot Program aimed at helping downtown-area residents and employees replace work-related car trips with bicycle trips. The program, which became known as "Ride Buddies", offered our targeted employers information sessions, custom promotional content and topical online content to help them promote bicycling. It offered custom rides—either a to/from work commute, CoGo tour or professional development experience—to any individual or small group exploring the possibility of bike commuting. These featured the following:
- An expert Ride Buddy to lead the ride, impart road rules and answer questions
- At least one route planned specifically by the Ride Buddy, based on a participant's origination/destination and vice versa, as well as their concerns, goals and preferences
- Information about how to link bike riding with other modes to make an active commute more manageable (e.g., Park & Pedal locations and COTA buses)
- Advice regarding equipment and gear, and other bike commuting basics
- Follow up communications with resources relevant to participants' stated interests
In total, 76 people took advantage of the Ride Buddies program. During the 2-month pilot, we conducted 44 rides—30 with individuals and 14 with small groups. Of those:
- 17 people rode ‘real’ and 7 rode practice commutes to and/or from work
- 19 people rode from work to a lunch or meeting site
- 23 people had professional development experiences organized by a supervisor
- 10 people rode non-work trips (e.g., to explore a neighborhood or shop for a bike)
The Ride Buddies pilot was rigorously evaluated using the following tools:
- Employer baseline survey—We sent an extensive pre-intervention survey about bike commuting attitudes and habits to employees of 10 Downtown-area employers, and received a statistically valid responses from each. Our post-intervention survey was abandoned when it became clear our impact would be less tied to specific employers than expected.
- Employer inventories—We conducted four interviews with Downtown-area employers regarding their support for bicycle commuting, and completed reports for each. Two employers were inspired by this process to apply for League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Business program. One employer received that recognition and the other's application is pending.
- Pre-ride surveys: 88.2% of riders completed a survey about their experience riding a bicycle for transportation as part of their online ride registration process.
- Immediate post-ride surveys: 80.3% of riders completed a survey about their experience upon following a link in an email sent shortly following their ride.
- 6-week post-ride follow up surveys: 57.9% of riders completed a survey about their post-ride behavior upon following a link in an email sent several weeks following their ride.
Here's what we learned about the motivations of those who participated in our Ride Buddies program:
- People want to ride but feel scared and confused.
When asked about the barriers preventing registrants from riding a bicycle for work-related trips, 50.8% of registrants cited safety concerns and 28.8% cited not knowing how to ride in traffic.
- A free Ride Buddy can be the catalyst that helps people make a change.
When asked why they chose this moment to learn more about riding a bicycle for work-related trips, 59.3% of registrants said because they were offered a free Ride Buddy to help them take it on (followed distantly by 27.1% who said they’d recently committed themselves to a lifestyle overhaul).
- Relationships, not mass media, generated participation; workplace champions are critical allies in this work.
Fully 63.2% of participants were invited by a co-worker, while 25.0% were invited by someone they knew from Yay Bikes!
Here's what we learned about Ride Buddies' impact on mode shift:
- A Ride Buddies experience helps people replace car trips with bike trips.
Immediately post-ride, a majority of participants (68.9%) said they were "Very likely" to repeat their ride or a similar journey on their own. More than half of those who responded to the six-week followup survey (52.3%) actually had replaced at least one car trip with a bike trip—and, of those, 96% replaced more than one. Nearly everyone who replaced a car trip with a bike trip (91.3%) felt "Completely!" or almost completely prepared for what they encountered.
Here's what we learned about Ride Buddies' impact on participants' bicycling knowledge and practice:
- The Ride Buddies experience significantly changes how participants ride.
Six weeks post-ride, 82.0% of participants said Ride Buddies had "Completely!" or almost completely influenced how they rode a bike, with the key changes being that they don't ride as far to the right (68.2%) and they are more likely to take the lane than before (61.4%).
- The Ride Buddies experience significantly improves a key indicator of participants' bike knowledge.
When asked to say whether the statement "Bicyclists can always choose to ride in the center of a lane, regardless of traffic conditions.” is true or false, 79.5% of Ride Buddy participants correctly said true, as opposed to 36.1% of the non-participants from our employer baseline survey.
Here's what we learned about Ride Buddies' viral impact:
- The impact of a Ride Buddies experience extends far beyond participants.
Almost all Ride Buddy participants (95.5%) shared what they learned with others—on average each shared with 3–5 others! Specifically, they shared about proper lane positioning (69.0%), how the experience was different than expected (66.7%), how it made them feel (61.9%) and bicycle traffic law (59.5%).
So what's the bottom line here? We think it's that significant mode shift can occur via meaningful interactions lasting just two hours or less. With the key here being "meaningful interactions"! It's not enough to throw up a billboard or hand out brochures. If we want to create real change in how people get from here to there, it will require a sufficient investment in people that they feel supported in adopting a new, more active way of life. Because it's hard to undertake all that much change all by yourself, and sometimes you just need a little help from a friend (or, uh, make that a Buddy! ;)!
The Ride Buddy program is not currently being offered; we are seeking funding to offer it in the future, and will promote that opportunity when it becomes available.
Contact Meredith to request additional data from this pilot.