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Promoting pedal power: Humana sets pace with bike-loan program for its employees

By Patrick Howington, The Courier-Journal, September 4, 2007

A new bike program spearheaded by Humana, called Freewheelin', is only for Humana employees but that could soon change. The high-tech racks work when a user inserts a plastic card in a machine, which unlocks one of the green bikes for use. But it has been so successful that Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson would like to see it expanded so that city residents could one day check out a bike and go wheeling around the parks.

Meanwhile, the metro government is starting its own bike-loan program, and has purchased four bikes for use by employees of the Metro Development Center at 444 S. Fifth Street. The program, called Borrow the Office Bike, may be expanded to other city offices in the future.

Abramson said that in the spring of 2008, the city will assess the growth of Humana's program and whether other firms replicate it, and the city will decide whether to set up bike stations at parks and other locations. Funding could come from business sponsorship of the stations or even sales of individual bicycles. It would place the city at the edge of community bicycling. Out of all the cities in the United States with such bike-loan programs, only one has an electronic check-out system like Humana's.

Humana, a Fortune 500 health insurer, began its bike program last week with a goal of helping both the environment and employees' health. The program began with 20 three-speed bikes with automatic shifters, and five bikes designed for longer treks. Approximately 2,000 of 8,500 Humana employees have enrolled, and 300 or so have already used the bikes. The company expects to add two more racks of bikes soon. The motivation for several U.S. cities' programs is to ease traffic. One such inspiration locally is Lexington, which began last May.

Most programs are not as technologically sophisticated as Humana's, with its automated solar-powered stations to read identification cards and track who has bikes. The Humana system deters thefts by recording who checks out each bike. The system, called CityStation, was developed by a Canadian company and pioneered recently by Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Tulsa program has not had any thefts, unlike Lexington's program, which is based upon the honor system.

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