Bike to Work Challenge in Victoria, British Columbia
Events in and around Victoria, British Columbia, are held during and before Bike to Work Week, usually the last week in May.
As many companies and organizations participate in the Bike to Work BC competition (http://www.biketowork.ca/) this commuter challenge event occurs across the City of Victoria. In addition to the commuter challenge, Bike to Work BC and another organization, Bike to Work Victoria, help communities erect commuter stations, or "celebration stations", around the city, which provide drinks, snacks, bike tune-ups, and educational materials from sponsors to bike commuters. They also provide media exposure for local businesses.
Bike to Work BC receives some support in the form of cash donations from local and provincial governments around the City of Victoria as well as corporations in the area. This support, however, has decreased recently due to the poor economic climate, leading to a push for more donations.
Many companies also provide in-kind support. For example, Starbucks provides much of the free coffee that is given out at the "celebration" stations. Bike shops provide free tune-ups at many "celebration" stations, which help keep both novice and advanced riders safe and provides media exposure to bicycle shops. As nearly 1000 bicyclists pass the celebration stations during peak hours at some locations, many sponsors receive a great deal of exposure during Bike to Work week and are happy to provide support to the Bike to Work initiative.
Bike to Work events in Victoria include a commuter challenge, "celebration" commuter stations, and a Bike to Work launch event. The Bike to Work Challenge, similar to events in other cities, challenges employees of companies and organizations of all sizes to bike to work in a friendly competition. The Challenge is based on a Web-based tool (http://www.biketowork.ca/node/5944), which allows riders to register and log trips, and has three divisions: small organizations (1–10 individuals), medium organizations (11–100 individuals), and large organizations (101 or more individuals).
With a 15 percent bicycle mode split on average for participating workplaces, the Bike to Work Challenge uses avid bike commuters as recruiters and team leaders within their organizations. By allowing bike commuters to play an important organizational role and incorporating a positive team dynamic into the Challenge, team leaders are able motivate other employees into biking to work, achieving a very high bicycle mode share for commuting to work in Victoria. The Bike to Work BC group also provides generous incentives to participate, such as a raffle to win an all-expenses paid vacation.
In order to market the event, Bike to Work BC begins their recruitment process a number of months before Bike to Work Week. At the opening launch of the Bike to Work season, Bike to Work BC unveils their new T-Shirt and distributes them to bike commuters that have formed teams at their places of work. The launch is usually well-publicized, generates a substantial amount of media attention, and draws a large number of people. In addition, they also facilitate an ongoing skills course, which helps introduce biking to potential new cyclists and prepares them for their bike commute. Over the past courses, roughly 2000 people have participated in total. This type of entry-level event helps novice riders feel comfortable biking to work, dispels preconceived notions about the difficulty and danger of biking for many new riders, and equips riders with the skills necessary for riding in traffic.
The Bike to Work Challenge was first organized by the Bike to Work Victoria group in 1995, but was later transferred to Bike to Work BC in 2005/2006. Over the five years that Bike to Work BC has organized the commuter challenge, they have refined the challenge to find the most successful formula. When Bike to Work BC began running the program, the focus of the events was on Bike to Work Day (and later Bike to Work Week) and was organized as a mass appeal to interested participants. This approach, however, tended to bring in loyal bicycle commuters more than new cyclists, which led the organization to reconsider its direction. By focusing on major employers and supporting interested cyclists at these organizations, Bike to Work BC was able to foster friendly competition among organizations and support bike commuting through team leaders, which has led to increases in the level of cycling in Victoria. The use of a Web-based tool has also facilitated the collection of helpful data.
As stated before, the Bike to Work Challenge and "celebration" stations are supported by employers across the region. Bike shops, coffee shops, and other local businesses also provide substantial in-kind donations in the form of merchandise, refreshments, and staff time. The Bike to Work BC organization itself is supported through a variety of funding sources, including local and regional governments and agencies.
Since the first events, which drew only a few dozen people, the Bike to Work Challenge has grown substantially and now attracts upwards of 5,000 organizers each year. In 2009, the events drew 22,358 total cyclists, up from 19,294 in 2008. Using data from a survey and the Web-based tool, Bike to Work BC has calculated that roughly 20 percent of the participants each year are new riders. This information as well as origin-destination studies conducted in the region supports the employer-oriented approach to organizing the Challenge.
One major lesson that Bike to Work BC organizers learned was the need to focus their efforts on creating the most successful event possible. By focusing on supporting team leaders, the event has involved many members of the community and has given them a stake in the success of the event. In addition, including other events unrelated to biking to work, such as community rides, as part of the mission of a Bike to Work organization was not seen to be particularly helpful, as a wider focus can deplete limited resources. By focusing on one program, Bike to Work events in Victoria have demonstrated substantial success in the past.