Last week I had an opportunity to meet with Steve Sanders, Alternative Transportation Manager at the University of Minnesota Parking and Transportation Services about the implementation of a new bike commuter program in Minneapolis and St. Paul, ZAP Twin Cities. It’s based on the very successful University of Minnesota ZAP Bike Commuting Program, but, many Minneapolis/St. Paul residents probably aren’t familiar with the University’s commuter program because Gopher ZAP is available exclusively for U of M students, faculty, and staff. But now, in partnership with Commuter Connection and St. Paul Smart Trips, the University of Minnesota is helping to make possible a commuter-based rewards program for all Twin Cities metro area residents who already commute, or, for residents who are looking for just a little more incentive to start making daily commutes via bicycle.
The Gopher ZAP program uses software and hardware developed by Dero ZAP. If they sound familiar to you, it’s probably because they are the Minneapolis-based Dero Bike Rack Company that started making commercial bike racks, back in 1995. The Dero ZAP tag is installed in your spokes, and the ZAP station records your commute when you pass by.
“It’s all automated. The user doesn’t have to do anything special, other than have the tag installed on their bike when they register, and ride past the readers located throughout the U of M campus, and soon, in both downtown areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul,” explained Steve Sanders. I asked him if there was a registration fee or if ZAP was subscription-based. Sanders replied that Gopher ZAP and ZAP Twin Cities is completely free to users. “Using Dero’s ZAP technology, the program promotes, encourages and rewards bike commuting to change how people in the Twin Cities choose to get around.”
Steve Sanders shows how Gopher ZAP commuters can track their account.
I asked Steve about the popularity of the Gopher ZAP program, and he told me that the ZAP technology was tested for about a year prior to the January, 2012 launch of the commuter rewards program on campus. “In just under six months we already have nearly 800 users signed up,” Sanders reported. “We are always obtaining new incentives and rewards for Gopher ZAP users, but the more popular ones remain health insurance premium discounts from U Wellness programs for points credited by using the bike commuter program, and other U Wellness incentives. Students are also rewarded with many bike accessories, like lights and fenders.” Sanders mentioned that they are working hard to have a similar health-based program rewards system available for the newly expanded ZAP Twin Cities, but that it will take more time, since they are developing new relationships with other health-care organizations outside of the University. Currently, they have negotiated rewards for discounts at local merchants and restaurants, but more information will be available soon.
There are presently 18 ZAP reader stations on the U of M campus. There will be approximately 10 ZAP readers strategically placed, in each downtown St. Paul, and downtown Minneapolis. Once the new reader stations are in place, their locations will be made available so bike commuters can plan their routes to record their commute, using any of the combined 38 reader stations, including those already in place on the University campus. The two downtown’s reader stations, linked by the present Gopher ZAP stations, will create an expansive network that many cyclists can use very easily.
ZAP station reader on University of MN campus
Sanders added, “The rapid growth and popularity of Gopher ZAP has Commuter Connection, St. Paul Smart Trips, and University of Minnesota Parking and Transportation Services wheeling to get ZAP Twin Cities set up. It is very exciting, but also challenging, since we are actually developing all this from the ground up, without help of any other similar infrastructure to serve as a guide, other than what we have already accomplished here at the U. We are not aware of any other commuter bicycle rewards program, in any community, using this technology, at this level. So, there are obviously going to be hurdles and speed-bumps when working with the city, utilities, and other agencies, to get the job done right, for success and continued growth. But, based on the successful development of Gopher ZAP and the awesome cycling community growing up around the Twin Cities, we are all very optimistic and feel fortunate to be working on such a unique and important endeavor.”
Sanders informed me during our interview that Commuter Connection had just received a $10,000 grant from Bikes Belong. “The interest and cooperation from cycling advocate agencies has been tremendous. The financial backing and other assistance granted to help develop and put the ZAP programs in place has been instrumental.”
The ZAP Twin Cities bicycle commuter rewards program is slated to launch in mid-to-late June, pending permits, location selection, and other criteria still in the development process. BikeMinneapolis will follow the progress and updates with more info when it’s available.
You can also follow ZAP Twin Cities on Twitter and Facebook.
MN 2020 Video Production Specialist Tom Niemisto produced a short film, back in March, about the Gopher ZAP bike commute program that you can see here.