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Commuter Choice Primer

An Employee's Guide to Implementing Effective Commuter Choice Programs

Section 6

Description of Commuter Choices—Location Choice

DESCRIPTION

Telecommuting is a desirable commute option for many employees who can perform all or part of their job from home or a location closer to home. Obviously, this eliminates the car driven to work on the days when employees telecommute. However, there are other options that affect where employees live and work. Many workers try to avoid long, stressful commutes by changing where they work at least 1 or 2 days per week. Likewise, many employers are changing the worksite itself to alleviate the need for employees to use their car during the day. The location and design of an employee’s residence and workplace can have a significant impact on the commute. These location choices affect where employees work and whether they even commute to the worksite.

OPTIONS

Location choice options can be divided into two groups:

  1. Home Options—Including working from home (telework) or relocating your home closer to work.
  2. Worksite Options—Locating a worksite in an area with better mode choices and/or providing on-site amenities and services to encourage alternative mode use and reduce unnecessary trips during the day.

The specific options are:

Home Options

Telework—Working from home is a popular and often necessary arrangement for small businesses. Increasingly, larger organizations are allowing employees to work from home a few days per week or month. These arrangements have been made on an informal basis for a long time where an employee and supervisor agree to allow some work to be done from home. Employers are now adopting formal telework (also known as telecommuting) policies that spell out who can participate, the conditions for teleworking, and the nature of the relationship between the “teleworker” and “telemanager.” In some cases, the employer assists with equipping a home office (e.g., adding a high-speed Internet connection or enhancing home computer equipment). Teleworking benefits employees and the employer alike. Employees are often more productive on their telework days, and employers can save on office space and expenses.

A small portion of teleworkers work from a telecenter. This is an office shared by many employers that offers some services, such as copying, office space, etc. Many federal workers in the Washington, DC, area work in telecenters operated by the General Services Administration.

Live Near Work—Employers can encourage employees to live near the worksite by providing information to new employees on areas that have reduced commute times or are near transit lines. Some employers even provide rent subsidies for employees who re-locate closer to the work site. Under very competitive recruiting environments, some employers (such as universities) participate in the development of affordable housing close to the worksite.

Another option is called “proximate commuting.” This option allows employees to work at branch locations nearer their homes. For example, a major bank in Washington State allowed some employees to report on a part-time or full-time basis to branch offices rather than traveling to headquarters locations.

Worksite Options

Worksite Location and Design—Employers can choose to locate offices or facilities close to transit stations or near services to reduce the employees’ need for their cars. Many cities are encouraging “transit oriented development,” which takes advantage of nearby transit by providing connection to rail stations or providing convenient access to bus stops. Employers sometimes choose to locate worksites in “mixed use developments” that allow office workers, for example, to have access to shops, restaurants, and services within walking distance. Employers also can design their worksites to be more conducive to alternative modes. For example, parking garages can be built to accommodate vanpools, safe secure bicycle storage can be provided, and well-lighted, maintained sidewalks may be provided to those walking from home or a transit stop.

On-Site Services—Many commuters cite the need for a car during the day to run errands as a reason for not trying a different travel mode. This situation can be partially alleviated by offering certain services on-site. Many organizations have on-site cafeterias or cafes that offer discounted prices to employees. This not only provides a convenience for workers but reduces loss of productivity from extended lunch periods as employees travel during noon-time traffic levels. Other on-site services can include postal services, health care, child care, dry cleaning, sundry stores, and fitness facilities. In Louisville, KY, the United Parcel Service brought community college classes on-site for employees working overnight shifts who could not attend classes during the day or in the evening. Some employers have implemented teleconferencing among multiple worksites to reduce travel needs and lost time.

CONDITIONS AND BARRIERS

As stated earlier, most telework occurs informally as employees ask to work from home on occasion to finish a project or to alleviate the need to commute long distances everyday. When turning an informal program into a formal telework policy, significant planning and training is required. The appropriate job functions for telework must be determined. A corporate telework policy should be communicated to all employees. The greatest barrier to telework is not technology at home—it is the mistrust of supervisors or misunderstood rules or expectations on the part of employees. This can be addressed through company policies and training (see below).

In terms of other location choice options regarding the proximity to home and services, few employers will undertake these significant and often costly actions to reduce the use of cars at the site. However, when decisions about location, amenities, and employee recruitment are being made, the impact on mode, route, and even time choice should be considered. Employees appreciate the ability to have choices on where they eat and shop and the option of staying at or near the worksite. The bottom-line benefit to the employer is not only happier employees but potential savings in reduced parking construction costs.

EMPLOYER STRATEGIES AND SUPPORTING SERVICES

Employers can be supportive of location choices in several ways:

Telework—A telework program should be accompanied by extensive training and monitoring to ensure that teleworkers and telemanagers have thought through the nature of work to be performed from home and the means for correcting any deficiencies. Employers can also provide or partially subsidize any improvements needed to an employee’s home office. For example, AT&T in New Jersey recycles the last generation of personal computers to teleworkers.

On-Site Services—Worksite services and amenities need to be promoted to employees so that everyone is aware of on-site and nearby services. Some companies and nearby businesses provide employee discounts for patronizing restaurants, dry cleaners, convenience shops, etc.

SYNERGIES WITH OTHER CHOICES

Just as with time choices, telework options need to be carefully planned to avoid the unintended shifting of employees back to driving alone. Employees should be encouraged to use mode options on days when they report to work. Telework programs are sometimes combined with compressed work week or flex-time programs to allow latitude on when and where employees work.

Likewise, the provision or promotion of worksite and nearby services can reduce the need for a car during the day and make using a mode choice option more viable.

KNOWN EFFECTIVENESS AND COST EFFECTIVENESS

Although some estimates show that up to 50% of all jobs are suitable for telecommuting, the actual portion of employees who might actually telework is likely smaller. Many jobs require access to special equipment, and frequent face-to-face contact is often needed.17 However, if employees telework 2 days per week, 40% of their car use is reduced, and the savings of miles traveled may be greater because teleworkers tend to have longer commutes.

A recent study estimated that 6.1% of California workers may telecommute an average of 1.2 days per week, meaning that about 1.5% of the workforce may be teleworking on any given day.18 Numerous examples are cited below of employer programs that have reduced the number of cars coming to the worksite via telework. A survey of 400 teleworkers in the United States indicated net reductions in the miles traveled by these commuters of 30 miles per telework day.19

Research in the Los Angeles area looked at site design and employer program effectiveness. It concluded that the most effective employer programs combined financial incentives for using commute alternatives with aesthetically pleasing site features. In other words, employees are most willing to use commute alternatives when direct financial incentives (or disincentives) are offered and the site is well-landscaped, easily accessed, and visually pleasing. A weaker, but positive, link was established between sites with the provision of on-site amenities and in-house commuter assistance services.20

There are several tools to help estimate the potential cost and benefits for a specific worksite. EPA’s website www.commuterchoice.gov provides a calculator that allows employer to estimate financial savings (e.g., taxes, parking facilities, employee turnover) and the estimated traffic and air pollution that can be eliminated by implementing Commuter Choice strategies.

EXAMPLES—LOCATION CHOICE

Most of the documented examples of location choices concentrate on telework. Many companies have implemented on-site services and designed their sites to encourage choices, but few concrete results are available.

The Guardian Life Insurance Company (Spokane, WA)

When Guardian Life Insurance’s Western Regional Office ran out of space at its Spokane location, it implemented a telework program. Starting with a pilot program of 10 employees, management evaluated the program and expanded it to 50 full-time teleworkers out of 635 employees (with plans to increase to 76). The Claims Approvers and Customer Service Representatives are provided with a PC, software, combination printer/fax/copier, and chair. Guardian reports a 10–20% increase in productivity and cost savings from not having to add office space for 50 employees. It feels the program helps retain top performing employees, enhances employee job satisfaction, and increases the potential for overtime and higher productivity targets. One Vice President was quoted as saying, “Even if we received neither productivity or space savings, telework is part of creating a flexible, accommodating work environment for employees; the rest is gravy…very good gravy.”21

Holland America Line/West Tours (Seattle, WA)

Holland America chose to implement telework when compelled to comply with the state’s Commute Trip Reduction law. Holland America has 1,000 employees at its headquarters site, and turnover among reservation agents had grown to 60% per year. Telework was chosen to address this retention issue. In addition to reducing turnover rates, the company found substantial productivity benefits. Teleworkers can handle more calls and bring in more revenue than their office counterparts. One Vice President said, “Three years of statistics show it takes nine teleworkers to do the work of 10 in-office reservation agents.” The program has expanded as other departments join the program.22

Bellcore (Piscataway, NJ)

This large telecommunications research firm with more than 5,000 employees implemented a comprehensive Commuter Choice program in 1994 that included mode, time, and location choices. When asked what would encourage employees to stop driving alone to work, the most popular responses were telework and work hour programs. The Bellcore telework program began with a carefully planned 90-day pilot program. These self-directed, idea-focused employees realized up to a 20% increase in productivity. This paved the way for 500 employees who now telework an average of 2 days per week and 500 more who occasionally work from home. Bellcore also implemented teleconferencing between its sites. It estimates that this reduces 30,000 trips made between sites each year for a savings in lost productivity of $2–3 million.23

Key Bank (Seattle, WA)

This Washington banking organization participated in a study for 14 of its branches in the Seattle area. The study revealed that 83% of employees lived closer to another branch office. Key Bank then implemented a program to trade employees who wanted to switch between sites, and the average commute for these employees was reduced from an average of 43 miles to just 15 miles. The study was part of a demonstration project for “proximate commuting.”24

California Public Employee’s Retirement System (Sacramento, CA)

CalPERs is committed to helping reduce congestion and clean the air in Sacramento. This state agency’s Employee Alternative Commute Program encourages employees to use alternatives to driving alone, and currently one out of every three employees does use an alternative. In addition to a significant transit subsidy (75% of a monthly pass price) and a shuttle to a nearby light rail station, CalPERS has many on-site amenities, including a sundry store, locker and shower facilities, and secure bicycle parking.25

TOP NINE TIPS—LOCATION CHOICE

  1. Promote Telework and On-Site Amenities as Benefits—Employees appreciate the ability to work from home as well as having services on-site as a convenience.
  2. Work to Maintain Alternative Mode Use—Telework and alternative work schedule programs should be integrated into a comprehensive Commuter Choice program that promotes mode and route choices as well.
  3. Work Out Deals with Neighboring Businesses—In order to get employees to use restaurants and shops within walking distance, work out discounts or trial offers.
  4. Get Help—Many regional agencies and consultants provide assistance with setting up a formal telework program. They can help you avoid unnecessary pitfalls along the way.
  5. Evaluate Job Categories—Before announcing a telework program to employees, carefully think through which jobs are conducive to telework and will be beneficial to the employee and employer alike.
  6. Take Advantage of Branch Offices—Could some employees report to a satellite office closer to home some of the time? This will reduce the time and stress for that employee’s commute.
  7. Include During New Employee Orientation—Explain any telework policy to new employees, including the departments that can participate and how to discuss the program with employees’ supervisors. Employees should still be encouraged to consider mode options as well. New employees can also be informed of residential locations with good transit access or shorter commute times.
  8. Adopt a Specific Policy on Telework—Because telework programs require a new and special work arrangement, very clear and specific policies and management support are needed to assist employees and supervisors to understand and make use of the options.
  9. Re-evaluate the Program—After 6 months or a year, poll employees and supervisors to see if the program is working to everyone’s satisfaction. Telework policies may have to be amended to make the alternative schedules work best.

    To determine if any of these Location Choice strategies would work for your worksite, go to the CCDSS and complete the Interactive Guidance Tool.
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