#52 – Commuter Coach: Commuter Bicyclist Recruiting

Fort Collins, Colorado

Betsy Jacobsen, Bicycle & Pedestrian Marketing Specialist, City of Fort Collins SmartTrips™


Traffic congestion and air quality are problematic in Fort Collins. With the population projected to increase by 43 percent within the next 20 years, it is imperative that our community make use of alternative sources of transportation and do so safely. Since most commuters live within 4.8 km to 11.2 km (3 to 7 mi) of their workplace, the bicycle is a very viable source of transportation for many. In addition, there may be improved “safety in numbers” in terms of the number of bicyclists that use the road and bicycle facilities. [See case study #54, references, for studies that document this phenomenon).] Our mild climate, relatively flat terrain, and about 402 km (250 mi) of bike lanes, trails and routes, make commuting by bike an easy option. Additionally, our annual Bike to Work Day research shows that people will commute by bike if given the opportunity and the right incentives.

The goal of Commuter Bicycle Coach was to recruit individuals to ride their bikes one day a week for five months instead of driving alone. In return, they would receive incentives upon reaching specific milestones. By encouraging riding for a period of time, our hope was to change people’s transportation habits.


Commuter Bicycle Coach is an intensive bicycle commuter recruiting program that provides support, education and incentives to beginning and existing commuters. Developed and implemented in 2002, Commuter Coach presents cycling as a fun and easy way to commute to work. Bicycle commuting provides the freedom and individuality we enjoy, while easing traffic congestion and improving air quality.

By targeting selected companies that had previously participated in SmartTrips™ programs, we recruited a “Commuter Coach” within their organizations who would become the liaison between our office and theirs. They in turn would recruit individuals for the program as well as assist in tracking mileage and distributing incentives. We would provide the incentives, as well as support their recruitment efforts with graphic and educational materials on safety, clothing, routes (such as bike maps), etc. We also would be available for free presentations and clinics related to commuting.

Prospective coaches (about 30 company representatives who were Bike to Work Day Coordinators) were invited to an informational breakfast where the program was described and incentives were shown. Information also was shared among the group on the best practices of recruiting individuals within the workplace.
From that initial breakfast, we enlisted seven coaches of varying cycling experience. Some were regular commuters; others were infrequent riders. Their companies ranged in size from just a few employees to close to a hundred. Once the program started, word of mouth spread to other companies until we had a total of 15 coaches and 237 participants in the program. Budget limitations required that we stop taking participants at that point.

Our incentives included a cyclometer to provide mileage information, as well as other items that help make commuting safer and easier such as headlights, rear racks and tire pumps. (We learned that many beginning bicycle commuters don’t have the equipment to make commuting safe and easy.) Additionally, we selected non-bike incentives that could be enjoyed by anyone, such as free movie passes, ice cream cones, restaurant certificates, etc.

We developed a simple electronic spreadsheet in Excel that the “Coach” posted on his or her company computer network so each participant could easily track the miles and days they rode each month. At the end of the month, the coach would then forward the spreadsheet to me, and I would distribute the milestone incentives.

Evaluation and Results

Throughout the program we tracked both mileage and the number of days participants commuted by biking or by walking. This gave us basic information about the frequency and distance participants were commuting.

At the end of the program we distributed a follow-up survey to all Commuter Coaches and asked them to forward the surveys to their participants. Of the 237 enrolled in the program, we received 60 responses — a 25 percent response rate. The survey simply asked if they commuted by bike or walking more, less, or the same amount because of the program.

Our original expectation was to attain 100 bicycle participants the first year, including coaches. We exceeded that goal and achieved 237 participants, including 15 coaches from 15 organizations. Because of budget limitations (the cost of incentives), we stopped taking new participants and created a waiting list for 2003 (when our next budget was to be released).

In addition to bicycle commuters, we also had 15 pedestrian commuters. When the program began, several interested walkers asked to have a program developed for them, so under the same umbrella of Commuter Coach, we implemented a walking component. Walkers were required to walk at least one day a week for five months and were given pedometers to track their mileage. They also were given different incentives.

Since June, the start of the program, we have tracked 46,414 miles and 6,238 days of commuting as of January 31, 2003. Unfortunately, the vacant position of Bicycle & Pedestrian Marketing Specialist, City of Fort Collins SmartTrips™ could not be filled, and the program was not continued.

Of the 237 participants in the program, more than half (127) finished the program; and another 50 completed at least half the program. Injury, cold weather and darkness were cited as reasons for not completing the program. Additionally, more than half of the participants completing the survey (38) stated the program motivated them to increase the amount they were commuting by biking or walking.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Based on the number of participants enrolled in the program and the high number that completed it, this appears to be a successful program that at least introduces bicycle commuting as an alternative transportation choice. However, there certainly are aspects that need to be addressed:

While participants were asked to bike or walk one day a week, bike participation was also tied to distance, meaning that a biker could complete the program in 20 days or 322 km (200 mi). The latter goal caused some of them to do all their riding in a shorter amount of time instead of the anticipated five months. As we moved into 2003, we adjusted the incentive milestones so participants were required to log at least four days a month in order to receive their incentives, and we no longer tied incentives to distance.

Cold weather and lack of daylight were hindrances as we moved into the colder months. While 2002–2003 has still been one of the warmest and driest winters on record, people perceive it to be winter and therefore stop riding. We started the program earlier the second year (March instead of June) in hopes people would form their habit of riding as the weather warms instead of cools.

Clearly, in the companies where the Coaches were more involved (providing hands-on support, internal motivation, prompt distribution of incentives, etc.) the participants did much better. Because of that, we have been more specific regarding the expectations we have of coaches. Additionally, we’re working more closely with them at the onset of the program.

Costs and Funding

While we were able to receive discounts on many of the incentives we purchased, the cost per participant is roughly $100. That includes administration of the program as well as incentives. In 2002, funding was made available through the city. In 2003, it will be combined funding from both the City and Federal CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality) funds.


Betsy Jacobsen
Bicycle & Pedestrian Marketing Specialist
City of Fort Collins SmartTrips™
P.O. Box 580
250 North Mason
Fort Collins, CO 80522
(970) 416-2403