Push vs. Pull: Beefing up Corporate Alternative Transportation Programs

It’s 30 degrees and snowing this morning yet I biked into Verdis HQ. As I leap-frogged the #11 down Leavenworth Street on the way in this morning, I found myself thinking about why I was on two wheels and how it related to some of our transportation demand management work with our clients.

The Moody family was down to one car today so I no longer had the option to comfortably hop into my car and drive in. About 8:00 last night, I started mulling options: I checked in with Patrick and Chris, both of which live nearby, to see if carpooling was an option (it was). I confirmed the bus schedule (still running…as always), and took a look at the weather to see if it was going to be amenable to biking (cold and snowy).

Research in hand, I gave myself until 7:30am this morning to decide. At 7:25am I turned down a carpool ride and left the house (on the Linus) planning to hop on the #11. As I climbed the hill towards the bus stop I found myself enjoying the time spent on the bike and decided to press on and just bike all the way in.

The reason I was on two wheels was, in part, because I didn’t have the choice to drive alone in my car; I was pushed out. On the other hand, I was being pulled onto my bike; that is, I wanted to ride. The feeling of having the cold, snowy air whipping my face felt the same as it did when I was eleven years old flying down a snow-packed hill on a sled. It was fun and exhilarating, and a little dangerous yet perfectly comfortable.

Progressive companies that are motivated to have their employees (and maybe even their clients…gasp!) mobilize in non-traditional ways have the same two-pronged bevy of alternatives. That is they can push their folks out of their cars AND pull them into other options.

Pushing Them Out
Providing disincentives to driving alone is a touchy subject. Ninety six percent of Omahans commute to/from work alone in their cars so it’s quite the challenge when companies start enacting policies or programs that actively dissuade people from doing so. The most popular and easiest-to-implement method is increasing the amount of money people pay to park their car. But it’s effective. It hits them where it hurts the most – in the pocketbook – and it will move the needle. When pushing people out of their cars, however, it’s vital to give them other options…to pull them in.

Pulling Them In
Actively enticing employees to carpool, or hop on the bus or bike is a much more enjoyable endeavor with many opportunities for creative programs and policies. There are many options to consider, so we always recommend an extremely simple approach…ask employees what they do and don’t want. A straightforward survey will reveal current commuting patterns, barriers to new alternatives, and how likely and willing people will be to participate in new programs.

As part of that survey, it’s important to offer possible programs that you might actually consider implementing should you find adequate interest. In other words, don’t mention a subsidized bus pass program unless you’re prepared to actually institute the program. But the survey should get to the bottom of what people might get excited about. Are they more likely to be bikers than bussers? Do they know where and when busses run? Have they ever considered carpooling? Is their biggest fear being “stuck” at work because they missed the bus or their carpool ride home? Do they even own bikes?

Once you know more about what people do and don’t want, it’s number-crunching time. Model out possible changes in your company commuting patterns so as to determine if you can avoid constructing a new surface-parking lot, for example. Once you have a sense for what might work, consider a pilot. There’s not always a need to walk through the halls dropping bus passes on every desk. Start simple, learn a few things, and then expand.

Transitioning from a workforce that predominantly drives alone to one that is migrating towards more sustainable alternatives is not easy. People are creatures of habit, and they’ll always take the path of least resistance unless you intervene in some way. But that intervention needs to both push them out of their cars and pull them towards other options. Work it from both angles and you’ll have far more success…and happier employees as well.

Onward and upward.

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