As I’ve noted in some posts before, there is a real lack of data for bicycle and pedestrian planning.  Modeling non-motorized travel behavior is difficult simply because (relatively speaking), not many people are traveling this way.  Therefore, in random sample surveys, very few (if any) people are picked up.  There’s no way to model and predict behavior when no behavior can be observed in the first place. [youtube]

That’s only one of the reasons why I’m so encouraged by a new product called ZAP! by Dero.  ZAP! employs RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to count and track bicycles passing by its sensors.  The technology is similar to that used in FasTrak or EZPass for automobiles in toll lanes.

Because bikes (more accurately, bicyclists) can be tracked, Dero has brilliantly devised a scheme whereby data is collected and users are encouraged to ride more often by being offered incentives and discounts based on how often they cycle.  Individuals get their own online dashboard that reports miles biked, gallons of gas and tons of CO2 saved, and calories burned.

The solar-powered, wireless, and web-based solution is sold to employers who can now offer $20 per month in tax-free reimbursements for bicycle-related expenses under the Federal Bicycle Commuter Act.  According to Mike Anderson of Dero, “some companies just get it,” and they want to encourage bicycle commuting because it makes sense.  Dero itself offers bicycle riders a $3/day incentive for riding!

They’ve recently won the 2010 Commuter Choice Award from Minneapolis for being a company who successfully manages employee commuting (they’ve employed their own solution).  I can see this concept going a long way not only in Minneapolis, but in other settings as well.  It offers the possibility of robust, frequent data collection and the type of encouragement that could really induce more demand in the bicycle travel market.

As the bicycle regains its place of popularity, we may be heading toward a time where bicycles have to be licensed like automobiles (wishful thinking?).  This requirement could provide an opportunity to install RFID chips in each bicycle, tracking bicycle movement similar to San Francisco’s CycleTracks App, but with no action required by the user.  In the short term, though, Dero’s ZAP! provides the type of innovative, elegant solutions to encouraging

-Terra Curtis