Sonos is putting serious money on the table to get its employees to commute to and from work via bicycle. Since April, Sonos — which manufactures wireless hi-fi systems and is one of the biggest, hip new companies to descend on downtown Santa Barbara in recent years — has offered to pay $600 to each of its 400 employees to buy new bikes and bike gear. So far, 87 Sonos workers have taken advantage of what’s dubbed the Earn-a-Bike Program, the first of its kind in the county.
Employees who give up their company-designated parking spaces “earn” their new bikes by commuting bipedally 60 times. Those who retain their parking privileges have to make the daily commute 80 times to “earn” their wheels. After the bikes have been earned, Sonos has agreed to pay $5 for every day that Earn-a-Bike participants cycle to and from work. Beyond that, the company conducts monthly raffles among participants in which one lucky employee gets a paid day off.
While many of the region’s largest employers — UCSB, Cottage, Deckers, and Lynda.com — have provided incentives for employees who choose alternate commuting methods, Sonos has clearly pushed the envelope. It operates out of four (soon to be five) downtown storefronts and has just increased its number of employees from 300 to 400. The demand for a finite number of parking spaces has proved to be both an expensive proposition for the company and a logistical nightmare for employees trying to chart their daily course. By persuading employees to commute by means other than car, Sonos’s facilities managers sought to reduce both cost and headaches. Few things are as persuasive, they concluded, as cash.
“We wanted to be a positive influence downtown,” said facilities manager Allison Griffin, “but we also had to do something.” In one building, there were only 25 parking spaces for 90 employees. In another, the gap was 40 percent. Griffin and her colleague Libby Jeffries teamed up with Kent Epperson of Traffic Solutions, who discovered — via an employee survey — that half of Sonos’s workforce lived within five miles of work. They also discovered only 5 percent commuted by bike or other alternative to the car. In crafting a plan, they set a goal of 30 percent. Just two months out, they’ve already hit the 47 percent mark.
The challenge, according to Griffin and Jeffries, was to devise a scheme flexible enough to meet the lifestyle realities of Sonos workers. Many parents, for example, find the bike-only option too rigid. Sonos provides bike commuters with a few days’ worth of parking passes at city-owned lots for times when the two-wheeled approach isn’t convenient.
Sonos’s success was lauded at a celebratory function hosted by Traffic Solutions last week as part of a monthlong series of bicycle-related events known as CycleMAYnia. Last Saturday, city traffic planners created a “pop-up” bicycle boulevard along Alisos Street on the Eastside, which runs parallel to Milpas Street. They hope to divert cyclists from Milpas, notoriously daunting and dangerous, and reroute them along Alisos, reconfigured to reduce the number of contact points between motorists and cyclists.
The results of this pop-up exercise will be folded into City Hall deliberations over a new bicycle master plan now in the hopper. Public input into that plan — via interactive website and a series of five community workshops — concludes this week on June 5.