Test Center Goes Green with the Fun of Bikes
October 29, 2008
"Going green" in the workplace is as easy as learning how to ride a bicycle.
Learn a little about balance, grab the handle bars, give it some speed - and away you go.
The "Go Green" campaign is a national movement to make the environment cleaner and safer through energy conservation and other non-polluting measures. But for the 19 employees at the Dynamic Test Branch, Redstone Technical Test Center at Test Area 2, "going green" is also about convenience, getting a little exercise and having a bit of fun.
In the past six to nine months, the employees have put up the keys to the branch "gators" (John Deere utility vehicles) and opted for the speed of a mountain bike to travel to the six hazardous test sites contained in Test Area 2.
"They've been wildly successful," branch chief Steve Nine said. "We had three bikes, but then we had to get two more. The engineers use them every day. They actually get more use than we thought."
The former Air Force Reserve officer had seen the use of bikes by airmen at Air Force bases to move quickly down the flight line of aircraft. Bikes are also used by the Army at various military installations, such as Fort Rucker's Aviation Technical Test Center where they offer quick and low cost transportation along helicopter flight lines. So, when Nine and his staff started talking about ways to save equipment, maintenance and fuel expenses and yet still have quick access to its test stands, the idea of using bicycles surfaced in discussions.
"We all thought it would be a good idea to use bicycles here because we are real spread out. We knew we couldn't afford to buy more gators but we had to have something that would give us instant transportation," Nine said. "Before we got the bikes, we would either walk or use the golf carts or gators we had. Walking was too slow, and using the gators was too expensive."
As soon as the bikes were purchased, most employees gave up the idea of walking in exchange for the speed of the bikes.
"There's 1,000 to 1,200 yards between our furthest north test site and our furthest south test site," Nine said. "We average four to five tests a day at various sites. If you are constantly walking between those test sites it takes a lot of time."
The bikes also easily took the place of the gators (the branch no longer has golf carts) because employees appreciated the cost savings offered by the bikes. The cost savings are big - a price tag of $15,000 for two gators versus a price tag of $700 to $800 for three bikes. Maintenance is inexpensive and, when the bikes are worn out, their low cost makes it easy to replace them with new ones.
Yet, when they first told employees about the idea of using bikes, many were skeptical.
"I thought they were joking," said test engineer Brittany Consuegra.
"But then I had to go to the test site furthest away, so I said 'OK, I'll ride the bike.' Now they are always being used. The question is always 'Who has the bike'' The only complaint I've heard is we don't have enough bikes yet."
To answer the growing demand for bikes, Nine said two more will be purchased soon. The organization is also looking into purchasing tricycles that provide a small trailer for storage between the two back wheels. And the organization's fleet of bikes will get their first improvement soon: handle bar baskets for carrying notebooks, cameras, test parts and other items.
Of course bikes can sometimes make adults revert back to childhood, doing wheelies, skidding and driving recklessly. But that is frowned upon at the Dynamic Test Branch. Employees are expected to use the bikes as work tools, not toys.
"We have stressed no horseplay with the bikes," Nine said. "I am not sure how well that has sunk in. These bikes are for official use only. We don't want to lose a good thing."
Besides the quick access to low cost transportation, the bikes offer something else that Consuegra appreciates - the chance to get a bit of exercise.
"Riding a bike makes me feel better when I don't go to the gym after work," she said.
As for the branch's four gators - they are now used primarily by support contractors who have to carry a lot of specialty equipment to the test stands.