MDN: Commuter Program Works With Employers to Alleviate Transit Troubles
Despite a reinvestment in the development of urban centers across the United States, the average American commute time is still increasing, which is placing a strain on both commuters and their employers.
That is one of the reasons Innovate Memphis launched the Commute Options program.
“We see that most Memphians are driving to work,” Suzanne Carlson, transportation and mobility project manager at Innovate Memphis, said. “So what we’re looking to do is work with worksites and look at the type of strategies they offer to employees and change that to a broader set of strategies to support people who are taking transit, biking or walking.”
For example, an employer might offer free parking, but not typically offer a wider variety of solutions and benefits, such as transit passes or bike racks.
The Commute Options initiative, which receives federal funding through the Tennessee Department of Transportation under the Congestion, Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, works to promote transportation choices that will improve economic and public health.
“We sit down with employers and talk about what the program is, the resources we can bring, and then ask them for a commitment that will help implement the strategies,” Carlson said. “The strategies ultimately have to come from the employer, because they are the ones providing the benefits, resources and encouragement to their employees.”
Some benefits of the program are savings in taxes and commute costs, more productive travel time, improved health and a reduction in air pollution.
Carlson said after the commitment, they survey employees to find out how employees are getting to work, what kind of barriers they have, and what they would need to take other forms of transportation to work.
“For example, they might be getting free parking, which is a huge incentive,” she said. “If they get free parking they’re more likely to drive.”
However, if an employer were to offer, for example, a transit pass in lieu of a parking space, more employees may choose to leave their vehicles at home.
This, in turn, could benefit employers by increasing retention rates and saving money.
“We find there is lots of turnover for transportation reasons, so if you have a little more support from the employer to take transit, it can increase employee morale,” Carlson said. “Also, if the employer is able to reduce the parking they are providing, there can be a huge savings – especially if they are leasing parking.”
And as more employers come back Downtown, the demand for parking spaces will increase.
“In that case, prices are going to go up, and employers are going to be looking to use these programs more to get people to work without necessarily bringing cars and having to pay for parking for everybody,” Carlson said.
Currently, Commute Options is in a pilot phase with a number of small to medium-sized businesses. Tim Maxwell is an asset manager for ServiceMaster by Stratos and his company was one of the first organizations to begin working with Commute Options.
Maxwell said transportation to their Downtown office was one of the primary causes of employee turnover.
“We lose them a lot of times, because they can’t get back and forth to work,” Maxwell said. “So that’s why we started looking to see what we could come up with that would have some kind of appeal.”
Not one to sit on the sidelines, Maxwell now gets up every morning and walks half a block to the bus stop near his Midtown home and gets off a block from his office, which he describes as a surprisingly simple process.
“It’s even closer to the office than the garage,” Maxwell said. “And I don’t have to crank up my truck.”
Maxwell said that aside from some weather-related issues and occasional tardiness, taking in the bus is a good choice for people as long as they have a route close to them and they are not afraid to walk a little bit.
“I’ve never had a bad experience with it other than sometimes they might be late, but as far as riding the bus and everything, I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s easier, and you get to know the people who drive the bus and the people who ride it.”