What are incentives?

Incentives are a resource or reward offered to users for performing a specific, transportation-related act. This could be commuting by bicycle a specific number of days per month, or trying each available mode of transit at least once.  Incentives are completely personal, they do not require competition of any kind. They typically require a user to achieve an objective goal set in order to be able to obtain the reward.  

Additionally, incentives can be both short term and long term or ongoing.  Long-term or ongoing incentives are a great way to provide those commuter benefits that your organization uses to even the transportation playing field, making all modes of commuting equally easy and affordable.  Short term incentives are a great way to motivate your users to try something new, like a month-long program to get your users to give carpooling a try.

Incentive is a broad term for any program that incentivizes a user to perform a certain behavior. Incentive is also a specific term within the RideAmigos platform that refers to a specific program-implementation tool. Incentives, broadly-defined, can be implemented within RideAmigos using either the Incentives or Point Programs tools. All of these programs appear in the Rewards area for users.

Why use incentives?

Incentives are one of the best ways to boost engagement and encourage mode-shift among your users.  With over 70% of American employees driving alone to work, its going to take at least a little nudge to convince them to consider an alternative to solo driving.  That’s where incentives come in.  

Want to convince someone to take transit, for example?  You have to make it at least as easy as driving, and generally probably have to make it slightly more attractive to catalyze a change.  An incentive of a free transit pass makes transit at least as cheap as driving (in the case where parking is free).  Offer some additional incentives like a guaranteed ride home and a bonus reward for the first 10 or 20 transit trips and now you’ve got a commute mode that starts to become more attractive than driving alone!  

Long term or short term? Or both!

Do you want to provide your users with ongoing commuter benefits via cash payouts for trips taken via a specific mode, or through provision of transit vouchers or tickets?  If so, you’re thinking about long-term incentives.

Do you want to encourage your users even further to try something new?  Perhaps you’d like to reward users that carpool with gas cards or users that bike to work with cool bike gear?  Now we’re talking short term incentives!

The only real difference is the length of the redemption period and the frequency.  For short term incentives you’ll likely only want to engage in those periodically and may want to rotate between different rewards: bike rewards for a month, followed by a month of carpooling incentives, for example.  On the other hand, long-term incentives are usually offered on an ongoing basis, either on a set time frame (monthly, for example), or based on a number of specific commutes where a user can continue to redeem indefinitely every time they reach that commute milestone.

Mix and match these two incentive types, along with an occasional challenge, for best results!

How do I decide what incentives to use?

The types of incentives are as varied and different as your users, and therefore there is rarely a one-size-fits-all answer to this question.  This is another instance where conducting a user survey prior to launch can be of use. To get the most out of any incentive, you must first understand your audience and what types of incentives they would be most influenced by.  

A great example from one of our clients:  Sonos, a Santa Barbara based electronics company, needed to drive down the demand for parking as they were losing a number of parking spaces in an office move.  They wanted to incentivize their employees not to drive to work and so conducted a survey to determine what types of incentives would be the most effective.  What they found was that over 50% of their employees were interested in biking to work. Based on this, they decided that an incentive related to biking would probably be effective. And so the Sonos “Earn a Bike” program was born: employees are eligible for a $600 gift card to a local bike shop after having taken 80 non-SOV (Single Occupancy Vehicle) commutes. This helped lead to a 45% parking reduction at their offices.

Like all situations, this story from Sonos is highly contextual. They are situated in a dense, urban area, where it’s warm for the majority of the year, which likely predisposed their commuters toward a willingness to bike.  But there are good takeaways here, particularly about learning what non-SOV modes your commuters are most willing to try.  Coupled with your ability to segment your audience through the Networks tool, you can set up incentive programs that are targeted and more likely to be effective.

Different types of incentives

Incentives can come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Here a a few common examples:

Emergency or Guaranteed Ride Home

Often abbreviated ERH or GRH, these programs offer commuters an easy way to get home on days when they have gotten to work by a mode other than solo driving. Typically these rides home are provided through taxis, ridehailing services (Lyft/Uber), or rental cars. Program participants are given the ability for a certain number of ride redemptions during a specified timeframe. ERH/GRH programs are typically set up in RideAmigos using the Point Program tool.

Mode-Specific Rewards

In addition to story about the Sonos Earn a Bike program, there are many other ways to design mode-specific rewards. For example, you may want to offer a reward specific for carpoolers, where for every 10 days they carpool they can claim a giftcard. Or a Try Transit reward where logging 20 transit trips can earn users a prize. Programs like these usually make use of the Incentives tool in RideAmigos.

Commuter Stores / Point Programs

Commuter Stores are an increasingly popular strategy for incentivizing users. This type of point program assigns point values to eligible trips, and after earning sufficient points users can redeem their points for a pre-determined inventory of rewards. Some commuter stores offer options for tangible prizes, such as branded water bottles or coffee mugs, clothing, outdoor gear, etc. Other programs, such as CommuteRewards by RideAmigos, offer digital gift cards from a variety of retailers.


Raffles are a popular tool because they allow program administrators to easily estimate the cost of the program, since all prizes are determined ahead of time. Raffles can be based solely on having logged eligible trips during a certain timeframe, or can be incorporated as part of an incentive or point program. For example, everyone who completes a certain incentive could also be eligible for a raffle drawing, or participants in a point program could elect whether to spend their points on smaller prizes or toward raffle tickets for a larger prize.

Reward Distribution Options

There are a number of ways to distribute rewards.  The two easiest are directly through a user’s paycheck (this works best in the case of long-term incentives provided directly by an employer), or through electronic vouchers or gift cards that could be shared through email. RideAmigos supports integration with Tango Card via our CommuteRewards program, which allows for easy and flexible reward distribution via a prefunded draw-down account.  

 A slightly more difficult, though still fairly straightforward method, would be to provide a ‘shopping spree’ at a local merchant where the merchant could be prepaid (or could be donating the prize!) and all you have to do is provide that merchant with the name of the winner.

If you do choose to go the route of giving away tangible prizes, never fear, just make sure that you have a good plan for distribution.  Are you going to mail the prizes out?  If so, keep in mind that it will add some extra cost to your incentives and should be budgeted in. If you have a fairly centralized organization, perhaps set up ‘office hours’ for users to come in and pick up those prizes, or leave them with someone that is outward facing and often at their desk, such as a receptionist. 

Whether you’re using electronic or physical rewards, RideAmigos tools can help you keep track of who has claimed rewards and whose claims you have fulfilled.

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