Solution 4.0

04. Grow Employer Mobility Programs

Excessive roadway congestion creates unreliable trip conditions that negatively impact employees and employers by restricting access to jobs and the region’s rich amenities. Drive-alone trips are a major contributor to traffic congestion, with most excessive and damaging congestion occurring during morning and evening weekday work commute periods. Mobility to and from worksites represents the largest contributor to congestion during these periods.

43 percent of Washington area metro 2016 State of the Commute survey respondents have changed jobs or residence due to their commutes, and 63 percent made commuting the only factor considered in their decision to accept a job.

Many employers provide employer mobility programs for their employees, such as offering pre-tax transit passes and alternative work schedules, or promoting carpools and vanpools, which can provide cost savings by lowering employers’ parking costs while also increasing the attractiveness of employment for current and potential workers. If implemented at scale at employer sites throughout the region, these programs can achieve large reductions in congestion, improve access to worksites for a wider set of potential workers, reduce costs associated with gasoline, and mitigate environmental impacts from the transportation sector.

If a core set of employer mobility programs was adopted by all employers in the Capital Region, models estimate that nearly 1.5 million daily vehicle trips could be eliminated,1 with Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) estimating that the Washington metro area alone could reduce congestion by 24 percent.2 To put this impact into perspective, the I-95 express lanes handle 30,000 vehicle trips a day.3 Even small reductions in the number of vehicle trips can significantly improve congestion. During the recession in 2008, national vehicle miles traveled (VMT) decreased by just 3.6 percent, but congestion was reduced by 30 percent in the nation’s 100 most congested areas.4

Both the public and private sectors have key roles to play in creating regional, consumer-oriented employee mobility programs that successfully reduce the region’s congestion. Private companies can lead by implementing game-changing programs—and the public sector could enhance the effectiveness of their scarce resources to encourage greater use by the private sector.

Capital Region Performance

The disjointed implementation of employer mobility programs at work sites and the programs offered by transportation agencies in the Capital Region make it challenging to achieve the large reductions in congestion that similar programs have achieved elsewhere. The programs offered by the various jurisdictions create a maze that employers and employees in the region must navigate to determine what they might be eligible to receive based on their home and work locations. A variety of employer mobility programs exist across the Capital Region—some of which are supported with limited funding by Maryland, the District, and Virginia; metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs); local jurisdictions; transportation management associations (i.e., associations that provide mobility programs in a particular area, such as a commercial district, medical center, or industrial park); as well as employers. These patchwork public programs and policies are not always coordinated, providing a disincentive for large employers with sites in multiple jurisdictions to leverage these resources. It also does not track with the daily lives of our workforce; between home and work, one in two Capital Region commuters cross a county boundary and one in five cross a state boundary in trips between home and work.5

If all employers in the Capital Region adopt a uniform set of core employer mobility programs, models estimate that the region could reduce nearly 1.5 million daily vehicle trips.6 With expert guidance from leading employers, stakeholders, and Virginia Tech researchers, the Partnership has identified a set of core employer mobility programs proven successful at reducing drive-alone rates, which include:

  • Offer pre-tax transit benefits
  • Establish telework programs
  • Choose transit-accessible site location
  • Provide secure bike parking for employees
  • Host annual transportation fairs
  • Designate an Employee Mobility Programs Coordinator

By focusing public investments on the employee mobility programs that most effectively reduce drive-alone trips, our region would achieve even further reductions in congestion. Establishing regional evaluation tools—including performance metrics and regional surveys—would allow the region to better devote limited resources to the programs offering the greatest congestion reduction and drive-alone trip reductions. In addition, streamlining how employers engage with public sector employee mobility programs will encourage more employers to leverage these cost-effective public resources.

Actions

Citations:

  1. Virginia Tech analysis of employer mobility programs using a model that deploys the Land Distributing Activity (LDA) Method.
  2. An Assessment of Regional Initiatives for the National Capital Region: Technical Report on Phase II of the TPB Long-Range Plan Task Force. National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, December 2017. https://www.mwcog.org/file.aspx?D=fyBRBNQUuDN48QEXRc3bNHLp8ytrsSEVcg%2fTMPrzu7g%3d&A=NYyETN4WuxQWWyImU6a2FRzM83OmR9W9kAJRDxObZ6I%3d.
  3. Versel, David. “More roads won’t solve traffic on I-95 in Northern Virginia.” Greater Greater Washington. https://ggwash.org/view/32922/more-roads-wont-solve-traffic-on-i-95-in-northern-virginia.
  4. “Implementing Complete Streets: Complete Streets Ease Traffic Woes.” Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition. https://smartgrowthamerica.org/app/legacy/documents/cs/factsheets/cs-congestion.pdf
  5. Partnership analysis of U.S. Census American Community Survey.
  6. Virginia Tech analysis of employer mobility programs using a model that deploys the Land Distributing Activity (LDA) Method.
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Action 4.1

Challenge the Region’s Employers to Implement Game-Changing Commuter Programs to Enhance Talent Attraction and Collectively Reduce Congestion During Peak Travel Periods

What

Employers, collectively, can lead the Capital Region to improve its transportation system by implementing minimal-cost or no-cost employer mobility programs. Implementing these mobility programs at scale throughout the region can achieve large reductions in congestion in the near term. This will also increase the attractiveness of employment for current and potential workers as well as increase access to jobs for a wider range of the region’s workforce.

The region’s leading employers, including the companies comprising the Greater Washington Partnership, should accept the Employer Mobility Challenge—in which each company provides a uniform set of Core Employer Mobility Programs for all employees and adopts no fewer than two additional Innovative Employer Mobility Programs not currently deployed by the company. The Partnership’s employers alone cannot create the scale needed to meaningfully reduce drive-alone trips in the region to bring down congestion. The Partnership calls upon the region’s public and private employers to accept the Employer Mobility Challenge. Only together will we create the scale needed to transform our region’s mobility outcomes.

The Washington Gas & Light company’s telework program has allowed employees to eliminate more than 57,000 trips and receive, on average, the equivalent of nearly two days paid time off per quarter by foregoing commutes on days they telework. The program has helped employees avoid driving more 1.5 million miles and save more than 70,000 gallons of fuel since 2010.

The Employer Mobility Challenge is estimated to eliminate 1.5 million vehicle trips daily in the Capital Region

Why

While important, large road or transit capital projects that can reduce congestion and enhance mobility outcomes can take years to deliver—delaying benefits at a large cost to the public. One way employers can directly reduce congestion is through employer mobility programs, which deliver cost-effective, near-term results.

Leading employers throughout the country are making innovative employer mobility programs a business priority to both boost the bottom line and enhance the attractiveness of the company to a talented workforce. Nationally, 33 percent of employers surveyed reported offering employer mobility programs through benefits, incentives, or services to reduce drive-alone rates and encourage transportation commute options such as transit, carpools, vanpools, biking, and walking.1 Sixty-one percent of those offering programs stated that their main reason for offering these programs is to attract and retain talented workers.2 Of those organizations reporting offering non-drive-alone incentives, 56 percent offer free or reduced transit passes and 31 percent offer carpool and vanpool incentives.3

With expert guidance from leading employers, stakeholders, and Virginia Tech researchers, the Partnership has identified successful core employer mobility programs and innovative employer mobility programs proven by leading employers throughout the country to deliver significant reductions in commuting drive-alone rates. By accepting the Challenge, employers can provide greater consistency to employees and scale high-impact innovative commuter programs. Since employers choose which two innovative programs to commit to, the business community has the flexibility needed to adapt to unique worksites while challenging each other to reduce congestion in the region.

Based on the rate at which consumers currently use each mobility option in the region, Virginia Tech research estimates that daily drive-alone trips would decrease by nearly 1.5 million trips if the core employer mobility programs alone were adopted by all employers in the Capital Region.4 This reduction in vehicle trips would have a significant impact on the environment as well, saving more than 459 million gallons of gas and 23.7 million pounds of CO2 every day in the region.

From 2013 to 2016, the Capital Region’s drive-alone rate remained steady at 71 percent, while some peer regions achieved significant reductions in drive-alone trips.6 Reducing congestion and drive-alone trips will help the region remain competitive and attract new talent. Through collective commitment and coordination, the Capital Region can lead the nation in addressing congestion and set a goal such as reducing drive-alone commute trips in the region to just 60 percent of all commute trips by 2030.

Benefits

Companies generate traffic—attracting hundreds if not thousands of daily employee and client trips to worksites. Maximizing employee commute programs allows a company to focus on its mission by improving employee experience and productivity; decreasing absenteeism; increasing talent attraction and retention; reducing parking demand to better utilize real estate assets; and meeting sustainability goals.

Across the country, companies are realizing the benefits of implementing commuter programs and considering access to transportation options when determining their worksite location. In 2013, Panasonic relocated to a site with greater transit access and added a robust set of employer mobility programs. As a result, the share of employees commuting via transit grew from 4 percent to 57 percent, while employees’ drive-alone commute rate fell from 88 percent to 36 percent.7 Cornell University has saved $40 million in parking costs over 18 years by offering free and reduced transit passes and carpool parking.8

Individual companies taking action together with others can deliver transformational benefits to the transportation system. The 2040 Long-Range Transportation Plan conducted by Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) in 2017 found that congestion could be reduced by 24 percent if employer mobility programs were adopted at each worksite throughout the Washington metro area.9 The analysis showed that—of all the strategies analyzed, including tolling, transit expansion, and others—the adoption of employer mobility programs would achieve the most significant reduction in congestion.

Even small reductions in the number of vehicle trips can significantly improve congestion. During the recession in 2008, national vehicle miles traveled (VMT) decreased by just 3.6 percent, but congestion was reduced by 30 percent in the nation’s 100 most congested areas.10

Barriers

Lack of effective marketing and education about commuter programs can result in few employees making use of available mobility programs offered by the employer or a governmental agency. Across implementation of all public and employer commuter programs, measures and metrics should be used to evaluate performance and ensure programs reach their maximum potential.

Next moves

No single employer in the Capital Region has the potential to reduce congestion on its own. Together, employers can scale employer mobility programs across the Capital Region to reduce congestion.

Next moves are:

  • Employers comprising the Partnership should lead the Capital Region Employer Mobility Challenge by adopting Core Mobility Programs and at least two Innovative Mobility Programs
  • Employers throughout the region should join the Partnership in the Capital Region Employer Mobility Challenge to deliver benefits for the transportation system

Costs

Many employer-led mobility programs can be delivered at little to no cost. For example, offering telework programs and providing employees the opportunity to exclude their transit or vanpooling expenses from their taxable income supports employee productivity and retention at little cost to the employer.

For no cost, companies can hold transportation fairs in conjunction with other benefit fairs and open-enrollment sessions, inviting local programmatic experts from transportation agencies to provide information and answer questions. A growing number of technology solutions—such as University of Maryland’s incenTrip, TransitScreen, and LUUM—can enhance employee use of mobility programs to incent different commute patterns, streamline administrative workflows, and creatively redeploy unused or underutilized parking benefits.

Citations:

  1. Transportation Benefits and Incentives: 2017 Survey Results. International Foundation of Employer Benefit Plans, 2017.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Virginia Tech analysis of employer mobility programs using a model that deploys the Land Distributing Activity (LDA) Method.
  5. Ibid.
  6. By comparison the State of Washington has decreased drive-alone trips by 40 percent since 1996; Partnership analysis of U.C. Census American Community Survey.
  7. How Panasonic Turned Car Commuters Into Transit Riders.” CityLab, October 2015. https://www.citylab.com/solutions/2015/10/how-panasonic-turned-car-commuters-into-transit-riders/412417/
  8. Success Stories of Employer-Sponsored Transportation Programs. Community Transportation Association of America and the Federal Transit Administration, January 2012.
  9. “An Assessment of Regional Initiatives for the National Capital Region: Technical Report on Phase II of the TPB Long-Range Plan Task Force.” Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, December 2017.
  10. “Implementing Complete Streets: Complete Streets Ease Traffic Woes.” Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition. https://smartgrowthamerica.org/app/legacy/documents/cs/factsheets/cs-congestion.pdf
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Action 4.2

Enhance the Effectiveness of Public Commuter Programs to Increase Their Use by Private Employers—to Complement an Expanded Employer Commitment

What

Mobility solutions1 aimed at creating behavioral change that reduces drive-alone trips are often supported by public entities such as local counties and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program. The Capital Region offers employers and employees a variety of these programs. Establishing a clear, unified regional approach to public investments in employer mobility programs would allow the Capital Region to scale its most cost-effective solutions and achieve larger reductions in congestion, while improving access to worksites for a wider set of potential workers.

However, even the largest employers with the greatest resources are sometimes discouraged from leveraging public employer mobility programs due to the lack of a “one-stop shop” containing information for all state, regional, and local programs. While Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) conducts a random-sample survey of residents in the Washington metro area every three years,2 the Capital Region as a whole lacks frequent standardized surveys to collect comparable travel data. Establishing regional evaluation metrics and data collection methods would be supported by standardized surveys and ensure public investments focus on mobility solutions with the biggest impact on reducing congestion. In addition, streamlining engagement with the public sector would encourage more employers to leverage cost-effective public resources—enhancing the likelihood the program results in an employee opting for a different commute.

Source: U.S. Census American Community Survey

Why

Many employers and regions throughout the country are establishing innovative employer mobility solutions and seeing cost-effective results. The State of Washington has achieved a decrease in drive-alone trips of 40 percent since 1996.3 However, the Capital Region’s patchwork of mobility programs and other investments have failed to achieve significant impacts on traffic congestion. In fact, from 2013 to 2016, the Capital Region’s drive-alone rate remained steadily above 70 percent—with 82 percent of all commuters driving alone in the Richmond metro area, 77 percent driving alone in the Baltimore metro area, and 66 percent driving alone in the Washington metro area. All these rates remained unchanged during the time period.4

Currently, the Capital Region lacks the standard program evaluation tools used by leading regions across the country. A uniform set of performance metrics could assess the public’s investment in mobility programs. A region-wide employee survey5 could serve as a benchmark for mobility services adoption throughout the region and allow for a return on investment to be calculated for a broader set of employer-led mobility solutions. Improving how we evaluate mobility programs will allow the region to better devote limited resources to the programs offering the greatest congestion reduction.

Benefits

A unified regional approach to employer mobility solutions has the potential to significantly reduce congestion and improve employee commutes. Congestion costs employers money in the form of increased absenteeism and turnover as well as restricted access to a deeper labor pool. Longer commutes have been linked to an increase in absenteeism of 16 percent,6 and workers with a commute of less than half an hour gain an extra seven days’ worth of productive time each year compared to those with commutes of 60 minutes or more.7

Allowing employers to purchase discounted transit and bikeshare passes in bulk would increase participation in publicly-supported transportation services—increasing revenues, decreasing congestion, and improving local air quality. A study of the Massachusetts Corporate Pass Program estimates the program generates $4.4 million annually by shifting riders who would normally buy lower-cost fare media to monthly passes.8 In addition, the study found that commuters who received transit passes through the program were less likely to leave the system after fare increases than nonparticipants.9

In Seattle, employer engagement in the transit program is so popular that the majority of transit boardings in King County are made by employees who receive fare cards through their employer.10 The bulk transit passes purchased by 1,800 employers account for 60 percent of the region’s farebox revenue.11

Barriers

Currently, our region’s patchwork of public mobility programs are failing to significantly reduce congestion. While our region’s public officials must be committed to pursuing a performance-driven approach and increasing the effectiveness of public investments in mobility programs, this alone will not be enough.

Fully realizing the congestion-reduction benefits of these programs will require our region’s public officials to overcome political silos and work together. Employer bulk transit and bikeshare ticket programs, program evaluation tools, and regional surveys have been successfully implemented in other regions, giving the Capital Region the benefit of various examples to learn from.

Next moves

The region’s public officials should overcome political boundaries and coordinate the region’s public investments to maximize the reductions in drive-alone commute trips achieved through employer mobility programs.

Next moves are:

  • Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), District Department of Transportation (DDOT), Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), and the region’s MPOs should establish a uniform set of performance metrics for commuter mobility programs to focus public funding on the programs and services that have the greatest impact on travel choices
  • MDOT, DDOT, VDOT, and the region’s MPOs should survey existing commuter mobility programs in the region and identify opportunities to enhance, leverage, and coordinate these ongoing activities
  • MDOT, DDOT, and VDOT should deploy a bi-annual standardized employee survey at urban area worksites employing 100 or more to establish a baseline for the region and measure progress toward reducing the region’s drive-alone rate
  • The region’s transportation agencies should create and market discounted employer bulk transit and bikeshare purchase programs modeled on successful programs deployed in peer regions

Costs

The 2012 federal surface transportation law, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), requires states and larger, more-populated MPOs to establish performance metrics to assess the efficacy of the nation’s transportation investments, including the percent of drive-alone trips. Establishing a uniform set of performance metrics for mobility solutions and an employee survey could be coordinated as part of this existing work at little additional cost.

Evaluations of corporate pass programs across the country demonstrate that the cost of providing discounted passes to employers can be recouped through increased ridership and revenues.

Citations:

  1. Employer mobility solutions (i.e., transportation demand management programs) deliver cost-effective, near-term actions that reduce vehicle congestion through benefits such as transit passes, promoting carpools, and telework programs.
  2. The Transportation Planning Board’s Commuter Connections program carries out the triennial State of the Commute survey.
  3. The Washington State Commute Reduction Law has been in place since 1991 and requires employers in the most congested regions of the state with more than 100 employees at a work site to establish plans to reduce drive-alone trips by 35 percent over 12 years. Establishing an Effective Commute Trip Reduction Policy in Massachusetts: Lessons Learned from Leading Programs. A Better City, August 2014. https://www.abettercity.org/docs/Effective%20TRO%20Final.pdf
  4. Partnership analysis of U.S. Census American Community Survey.
  5. A bi-annual, uniform employee survey does not exist in the Capital Region, and only MWCOG provides a standard employer survey—limited in reach to the Washington metro area.
  6. Jos van Ommeren & Eva Gutierrez-i-Puigarnau. “Are Workers with A Long Commute Less Productive? An Empirical Analysis of Absenteeism,” Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers. Tinbergen Institute, 2009.
  7. Based on a study of over 34,000 British employees conducted by VitalityHealth with the University of Cambridge, RAND Europe and Mercer. “Long commutes ‘increase risk of depression, obesity, and damaging employees’ productivity,’” Independent, May 2017. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/long-commutes-work-employee-depression-obesity-productivity-workers-research-travel-a7749206.html
  8. Opportunities to Expand the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Corporate Pass Program. A Better City, April 2015. http://www.abettercity.org/docs-new/2015.05.01%20FINAL%20Corporate%20Pass%20Program%20Report2.pdf.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Sixty-five percent of transit boardings in King County are made by someone with an employer-subsidized fare card. “Something’s Different Here: Seattle Companies Note Job Growth Requires Great Transit.” Seattle Transit Blog, July 2017. https://seattletransitblog.com/2017/07/05/somethings-different-here-seattle-companies-note-job-growth-requires-great-transit/.
  11. Partnership correspondence with WSDOT and Commute Seattle staff.
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