TDM: A Wonky Acronym That Means More Business

Throw your know-how into these bike commuting efforts to earn new customers

Words by Kimberly Kinchen

Want your shop to be top of mind when new bike riders enter the market? Start by learning three simple words: Transportation Demand Management (TDM, for short).

TDM is the shorthand that transportation wonks use to discuss various strategies aimed at changing how people commute to work. Most often, it’s about convincing solo drivers to shift to other modes—bike, bus, train, walking, or car-sharing—in order to reduce congestion and minimize parking costs. Both municipalities and private companies are becoming increasingly engaged in TDM, offering cash rewards and other incentives for drivers to skip—or, on the other hand, penalties against those who take—the solo trip. TDM has become such a big deal in recent years that an entire industry, made up of Transportation Management Associations (yes, that’s TMA) has sprang up around helping companies change their employees’ habits.

What’s all this have to do with your local bike shop? Take the example of Bikesport in Trappe, Pennsylvania. When the Greater Valley Forge TMA approached owner Ginny Politz seeking prizes to distribute to local winners of the National Bike Challenge, she agreed, and went a step further. “I said ‘Yes, and why don’t we host a wine and cheese event to kick off the competition?’”

Bikesport’s early buy-in has paid off. “We are the only bike shop member, so they send everything our way. If they have a corporation contact them and say ‘we’d like to do a Lunch and Learn bike program’ (to educate employees on bike commuting basics), I get an email introducing me as the solution.”

 Here are a few key starting points for any bike shop to get involved with TDM:

  • Connect.  Locate your area’s TMA, which is best positioned to keep you informed of TDM opportunities at individual firms or with community-wide events.
  • Follow the money.  Sonos gives $600 to employees who become bike commuters, and contracts with four local shops to serve those riders. Sonos’ generous program may be an outlier, but your TMA may be able to help you the many firms that offer more modest, one-time or periodic cash rewards for staff to put toward the purchase of bike accessories.
  • Go mobile.  Politz says that on-site events that attract people specifically interested in bike maintenance and repair education have produced the best returns for her shop. “It’s a way to reach a lot of people, because if you don’t catch them while they’re at work, you may not catch them at all. Broad-based events such as health fairs aren’t nearly as effective,” says Politz.
  • Repeat.  Stand-alone Bike to Work Month events are predictably popular times for bike-based TDM events. But some large firms have started offering ongoing mobile bike repair on-site, a convenient option for commuters that allows them to drop off and hop back on their spruced-up ride in time for the trip home.
  • Get listed.  Many TMA and TDM programs produce resource pages on their websites, including “where to buy” information. Make a case for why your shop is a good resource for bike commuters, and ask to be included.
  • Return the favor.  Promote bike commuting on your site and in your store. You never know when that loyal weekend warrior is going to give weekday commuting a try.

Politz says her strong relationship with her local TMA ensures Bikesport gets called first for any TDM needs. But she also emphasizes the harder-to-calculate dividends the partnership has yielded by strengthening her reputation and influence in the local community. “Everybody knows us as the bike shop that really cares about bike advocacy and safe biking.” As far as Politz is concerned, getting in on TDM is strategic. “My advice to other shops is to align themselves with organizations that promote safe cycling, so our industry can grow. TMAs do a great job of finding and providing alternative forms of transportation—one of them being cycling.”

A version of this story was first published online by PeopleforBikes.