When he travels outside of Atlanta, Matt Silliman often hears about the city’s dubious reputation for transportation. People bring up the I-85 bridge collapse in March or observe that traffic seems to stop whenever it snows.
But Atlanta is trying to change that reputation by focusing more on transit, including launching its first bike share program last summer. One year later, local employers say the Relay program offers benefits to companies as a whole, not simply employees—and may even serve to boost Atlanta's national profile when it comes to job-hunters.
That includes Silliman's ad agency, 22squared, whose Midtown office is near a Relay bike hub.
“Since these stations have been popping up, I think one of the coolest things for me to see is that people are using them,” said Silliman, 22squared’s senior vice president director of integrated production. “Relay is one of many things that’s happening that is kind of a resurgence of a more modern approach to personal transportation that Atlanta has adopted, and I’m very happy about that.”
Since Relay launched with 100 bikes, it has expanded the number of hubs and added hundreds more bikes. Its coverage area has also grown: This July, the first bike hubs came to Buckhead. Prices for the bikes range from $3.50 for 30 minutes of riding, all the way to $15 a month for a month-to-month pass that includes 90 minutes of riding time per day.
Major corporate partnerships include Coca-Cola, which offers free memberships to its employees. In a vote of confidence for Relay, Coke replaced an existing company-run bike share program at its North Avenue headquarters with a new Relay hub earlier this year.
“We chose to participate in the Relay bike program to better connect our offices to a broader bike sharing program in Atlanta,” Coca-Cola spokesperson Kent Landers said in an email interview. “We do all of this because making it easier for our commuters get out of their cars and take alternative transit is an important part of our efforts to help our hometown reduce traffic congestion and pollution.”
The campus is also along the PATH Parkway, a new multiuse trail connecting landmarks across Atlanta, so Coca-Cola had more reason to welcome Relay bikes, Landers said.
Another major local company benefiting from Relay is MailChimp. Lain Shakespeare, director of corporate citizenship at the email marketing firm, has biked 180 miles since he started using Relay to get to work in April.
He said more than 45 percent of employees at MailChimp commute to the office without driving solo in a car. Relay is another transit option that workers can use in addition to walking, ride sharing and a shuttle that transports people from the North Avenue MARTA station to Ponce City Market on the BeltLine, where most of MailChimp's 700 employees work.
“The BeltLine is a great access point for our place, and I think this is something that complements the BeltLine nicely,” Shakespeare said of Relay. “Whether you’re biking, walking, taking transit, it’s the access and options that make it attractive to work at a place like this. I don’t think it’s about any one mode, but it’s about having options to a lot of different modes.”
Shakespeare said when he parks his Relay bike at a hub, he often gets stopped by someone on the street asking how the program works.
“I’m not someone who has ever owned a bike before. I’m not interested in owning a bike, but I love riding bikes,” he said. “It’s opened up my experience with the city on a day-to-day basis.”
At 22squared, employees often need to pick up small objects for production and shoots. Silliman said jumping on a bike to do these tasks can be easier than using a car.
“Relay is just another method for us to easily get around the city and pick up whatever we need to. Just in the Midtown area, it’s just a great option for if you just have to run uptown,” he said.
Silliman said Relay and the increase in bike lanes have made Atlanta more attractive when 22squared recruits talent from other cities.
“What’s made this town more of a destination now or made it more enticing to these people is the fact that we’re working on our infrastructure, that there’s simply more to do without having to drive,” he said. “Although Relay hasn’t specifically been in our marketing pitch as we’re bringing talent in, it’s just part of what people are excited about in this town.”