As a winner of the Innovations in American Government Award for 2000, King County Metro Transit (Metro) in Washington received a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation for its Commute Partnerships program, which encourages employers to offer alternative commuter transportation packages as part of employee benefits.
The Metro is the first public transportation agency to receive the Innovations in American Government Award in the award program’s 15-year history.
“We see ourselves as a mobility agency, not just a transit agency,” said the Metro’s Senior Transit Planner Malva Slachowitz. “This view of our agency opens the door for innovation. That’s why we won the award, and other agencies can do that, too.”
The Commute Partnerships program is the most recent development in the Metro’s long history of policies encouraging alternative commuting. It found that an initial investment of public funds can persuade employers to subsidize their employees’ alternative commutes upon seeing the
benefits to both employer and employee, Slachowitz said.
In 1999, $600,000 of public money invested in companies’ Commute Partnerships generated $3.4 million of private money toward alternative commutes. For employers, the cost of alternative commute support can be much less than the cost of constructing or leasing parking lots for employees’ cars. For employees, the cost of local transportation is included as an employee benefit, even on weekends.
The Metro works with individual employers to create alternative commute packages specific to each company’s employee needs. Packages can be tailored to employers based on the location of the company and its employees’ homes, Slachowitz said.
As part of the Commute Partnerships program, employers can opt to purchase the FlexPass, which provides each employee at a company a card with access to all forms of alternative transportation included in the company commute package.
Commuting options include transit and van pooling, as well as the Commuter Bonus Plus program. In that program, commuters who carpool, bike, walk, or telecommute receive financial reward vouchers that can be exchanged for goods and services at retailers whose products support alternative commuting. For those commuters still wary of leaving their cars at home, the “home free guarantee” program provides employees a taxi service to get them home in case of an emergency.
By the end of 1999, 425 King County employers were involved in the program, and the number of employees driving alone to participating worksites was reduced by up to 40%, Slachowitz said.