This guest commentary is from Stuart Anderson, Executive Director of Transportation solutions.
Innovative and forward-thinking companies are beginning to realize that providing reasonable workplace transportation options helps employees save on travel costs while giving employees more travel choices. More choice improves employee recruitment and retention. The choices also help reduce single occupant driving, traffic congestion and air pollution. Transit Solutions reports show that a well-designed transportation program can reduce single-occupant vehicle (SOV) trips by up to 15% without adding cost to the employer or forcing anyone to give up their car. Adding financial incentives and active promotion to the mix can sometimes further reduce it to as little as 25% SOV travel. (Example: City of Seattle Travel Reduction Strategy Plan 2019-2023)
Commuter surveys conducted by Transportation Solutions, the Transportation Management Association (TMA) serving southeast Denver and Glendale, found that one in four employers offer support for more options than driving alone and parking. The most common benefits after parking are free or subsidized transit passes and carpooling incentives. Commuters also want more transportation options. A 2017 Cherry Creek employee survey showed that 42% of employees wanted help with options other than driving alone.
Assistance with the transportation program is free. The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) created the award-winning program Way to Go partnership two decades ago as a voluntary initiative designed to help employers establish successful transportation programs. DRCOG and eight local nonprofit transportation management associations have established transit pass programs for employers, are forming carpools and vanpools, formalizing telecommuting agreements, exploring micro- transit, and much more. Hundreds of employers have benefited from these free services and are finding value in the results.
Requiring all major employers to offer commuting programs seems like a logical step, and one that has been done successfully in most Western cities. For 20 years, cities such as Phoenix, Tucson, Seattle, Spokane, Portland, Los Angeles, Sacramento and 14 other areas have imposed reduced commuting requirements. Seattle attributes the low downtown solo driving rate (23%) to employer commuting programs.
The requirements generally focus on four elements.
- Large employers should provide commuting information â such as local bus schedules, bike maps and carpool connections â to new and existing employees.
- Employers must offer employees the Federal Commuter Tax Benefit (IRC 132(f)) which allows employees to purchase public transit passes or pay for vanpool seats using pretax dollars. It’s simple to offer and saves employers $7.65 for every $100 an employee uses before tax.
- Employers should develop a plan to achieve a reasonable goal of reducing SOV trips, typically around 10% to 15%.
- Employers conduct periodic commuting surveys to gauge what employees want and how they commute.
Today, Denver is ranked among the worst cities in America for harmful air quality. Denver residents breathe unhealthy air for much of the year. During the summer of 2021, there were 65 days ozone alert when individuals are asked to reduce activities that may create harmful emissions. Twice, in 2021 and 1994, Colorado health agencies have considered requiring transportation programs. Twice this request was deemed too onerous for Denver employers, even though employers in most Western cities have been doing it successfully for two decades.
Colorado’s 2022 legislative session looks promising with two potential bills. The first would create a tax credit for employers who buy public transit passes for their employees (HB22-1026 Tax Credit for Alternative Transportation Options). The second bill, which has yet to receive a bill number, would encourage employers to establish commuting programs. What the bill might require of employers is yet to be determined, but the Denver area cannot meet federal air quality standards without substantive action that engages more employers in reducing trips home. -job.