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Commuter Choice Primer

An Employee's Guide to Implementing Effective Commuter Choice Programs

Section 1

Introduction and Purpose

WHAT IS COMMUTER CHOICE?

Commuter Choice is a nationwide initiative encouraging employers to offer a broad range of commuting options to their employees. This means expanding the choices available for employees to get to and accomplish their work, whether they are transportation options such as public transportation, bicycles, carpools, modified work schedules, or technology options such as telecommuting that change how work is done.

Initiated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the goal of Commuter Choice is to expand the availability of commute options as a viable means of addressing growth-related issues impacting our communities.

More specifically, Commuter Choice is:

  • A government/business/community partnership designed to motivate employers nationwide to offer commuter choices.

  • A voluntary initiative motivating employers to offer a broader range of commute options to employees through services, work options, benefit programs or other business decisions.

  • A benefit to employees that enhances their quality of life by making “getting to work” easier, more affordable, and more employee-friendly (i.e., sensitive to commute and lifestyle demands and needs).

  • A benefit to communities to help achieve livability, sustainability, and mobility.

Commuter Choice covers a range of options that employers can use to encourage employees to choose an alternative to driving alone in peak travel periods. Options include when, how, where, and even whether to travel on work related trips. These options are categorized into four commuter choices:

  1. Mode Choice — How to commute

  2. Time Choice — When and how fast to commute

  3. Location Choice — Where to commute and whether to commute

  4. Route Choice — Which way to commute

These choices recognize that each employer, each worksite, and each employee has different needs and characteristics. Many commuters today cannot or will not change “how” they get to work. Yet they still have to make choices as to when they travel and the route they take. This is why the choices are broad based to allow an employer to customize a Commuter Choice program to meet their specific needs.

WHY IS THE INITIATIVE TARGETED AT EMPLOYERS?

Throughout the country, in communities large and small, traffic congestion is getting worse. Employees are spending more time stuck in traffic while commuting to and from work. This congestion is taking a toll on employee productivity, health, and morale. Ultimately, these impacts are felt by their employers.

Historically, government agencies have focused more on addressing increased congestion through providing additional infrastructure (road investments) and through regulatory approaches rather than on how the infrastructure is used. While more capacity may still be added in some areas, what is also needed now are multi-organizational partnerships with employers to help manage travel demand through incentives and voluntary actions, for example, Transportation Management Associations (TMAs) and/or employers working with transit agencies to provide discounted transit passes.

Employee travel behavior can be influenced most effectively through employer actions. Work locations, schedules, parking availability and cost, access to public transportation, on-site services such as daycare/dependent care, and convenience stores can directly affect an employee’s commuting choice and in turn the amount of travel and congestion.

WHY SHOULD EMPLOYERS BE INTERESTED IN COMMUTER CHOICE?

Employers that have implemented these types of programs report a range of reasons or motivations for providing commute options to their employees. Some of the motivations are as simple as a desire to make their employees happy. Some motivators are more critical in times of low unemployment, when it is more difficult to attract and retain highly skilled workers. Other motivations have more of a “bottom line” justification, for example, a desire to increase worker productivity or reduce facility operating costs.

Some of the benefits of these programs are not easily quantifiable, such as improved employee morale that is observed by many employers after offering commuter choices. However, some benefits such as decreased demand for parking, increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, or decreased operating costs are quantifiable. In these cases, there is evidence showing how implementation of a Commuter Choice program has helped to accomplish specific worksite needs. Motivational factors are discussed further in Section 3.

WHO SHOULD USE THESE COMMUTER CHOICE GUIDANCE MATERIALS?

Commuter Choice Primer: An Employer’s Guide to Implementing Worksite Programs and the Commuter Choice Decision Support System (CCDSS) are designed to assist employers that are considering implementing a Commuter Choice program with determining those measures that might work best for their particular situation. This Primer is intended to be a concise, user-friendly reference guide to developing and implementing a worksite program. These tools provide an overview of all four Commuter Choice categories for employers to consider.

Employers considering a Commuter Choice program for the first time will benefit the most from this guidance because it provides the basic concepts for each commuter choice, including examples and cost/benefit factors for various commute options. The CCDSS software program walks the user through a series of questions about the worksite and employees. This information is then analyzed by the CCDSS to identify commute options that may be most appropriate for that specific employer based on the user’s input to specific questions.

The CCDSS and this Commuter Choice Primer are primarily aimed at new employee transportation coordinators who are trying to develop or implement Commuter Choice programs for their particular company. But it will also be of value to mid-level managers within human resources or comparable departments that are responsible for commute-related issues. In addition, these materials will help higher level management understand the concept of Commuter Choice, how it affects their employees, and their bottom line. For example, Chief Financial Officers may be interested in how much a program may cost and what their return on investment may be.

Even though the CCDSS and this Commuter Choice Primer are designed to assist employers with starting a Commuter Choice program, it is also useful to those with existing programs. The CCDSS can be used to help identify new or enhanced strategies to make an existing program more effective. Employee transportation coordinators, or employees responsible for an established Commuter Choice program, can use these materials to redesign their program and/or estimate the benefits of their current programs.

In addition, staff at local transportation organizations, such as rideshare agencies and TMAs may use the guidance documents to develop plans and estimate impacts for employers they are assisting.

The following sections of this report provide information on how to use these guidance tools, further information on the Commuter Choice concept, descriptions of the various commuter choice options, case studies, steps for getting started, and a list of additional resources. After reviewing the information in this report, proceed through the questions in the CCDSS to see how Commuter Choice may benefit your worksite.

U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration logoU.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration logoU.S. Environmental Protection Agency logo