Accommodating alternative transportation is more than just painting a couple of special spaces or setting out a stack of bus schedules. Whether your company's plans are prompted by the possibility of LEED points or a near-capacity parking structure, the central point is the same – offer commuters more choices.
The freedom to choose a different way to travel is inherently good for the environment, and it also offers soft benefits for employers and employees. "If people are stuck in traffic for an hour to get to work, they're not necessarily arriving at work in the best mental state," says Ted Bardacke, a senior program associate for Global Green USA, current member of the LEED Technical and LEED-ND Core committees, and former chair of LEED's Location and Planning technical advisory group. "Maybe the idea of choice is that you don't have to face that every day."
If you've been charged with exploring alternative transportation strategies, don't get overwhelmed by the staggering number of options – the right decisions for your facility are just a few questions away.
Understand Local Regulations and Resources
Start off on the right foot by understanding your unique situation. Some cities have zoning regulations requiring you to maintain a certain amount of parking, so it's important to understand what the legal landscape looks like before you jump into an alternative transportation plan.
You may also find support and planning help from regional transit agencies, Bardacke explains.
"The people who coordinate regional public transit would like to get more riders, and if they can capture a whole company's worth of riders, that's very cost-effective for them," he says. "Many transit agencies have account managers for companies or corporate ride programs."
Locations with a high level of air pollution, such as southern California and Houston, may offer alternative transportation assistance through a local or regional air quality management agency as part of their efforts to reduce smog, Bardacke adds. Understand your area's regulations and resources to develop a clearer picture of what's possible.
Narrow Your Focus
Assess your facility's situation in depth to determine what's most feasible to implement, taking into account the outside forces affecting the area where your facility is located. Start by finding out how employees currently get to work. Other considerations include:
- Is your facility in an urban, suburban, or rural area?
- Do you own or rent your building(s)?
- How close are you to public transit stops?
- What is your current parking solution?
- What other businesses are located close to yours?
- Where do your employees commute from?
- Are there any local laws requiring companies of your size to institute a commute trip reduction plan?
- What options do your building's employees ask for?
Location and local infrastructure will play the biggest roles in narrowing down your options, says Todd Litman, executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI) in Victoria, BC. This independent research organization hosts a comprehensive transportation demand management (TDM) encyclopedia at www.vtpi.org packed with studies on every aspect of alternative transportation.
"In cities, they'll shift to walking and public transit," Litman says. "In rural and suburban areas, more of them shift to bicycling and carpooling. The amount of driving reduced is often the same, it's just that the shift goes to different modes."
Use your informal assessment to anticipate the likely direction of this shift, based on local resources and other factors. Next, determine which forms of transportation employees will support and what it would take for them to give up traveling to work in single-occupancy vehicles. This should give you an idea of which strategies are worth investing in and what (if any) incentives would help make the case.
Once you've narrowed your focus to a few potential projects, you can start running the numbers to determine which are the most feasible. When making these preliminary plans, remember that demand may change as employees come and go, so keep your plans dynamic.
"The formula is how to respond to consumers' demands," Litman says. "If there are 20 employees who want to bicycle, you want 20 really good bicycle parking spaces – preferably indoors, fully secured, protected from the weather, and with a shower. If there's demand for five vanpools, you want five vanpool parking spaces. You're just trying to respond to what people want, but in ways that provide efficient incentives."
Answer the Cost Question
If your building has its own dedicated parking lot, you may not be thinking about the worth of that space. However, freeing up even a few parking spaces can become a potential source of revenue, which can be redirected into accommodations for alternative parking or used for other projects.
New parking lots are expensive to construct, Bardacke says. If you require a parking structure that's partially or entirely underground, the cost of building the structure can grow to around $30,000 per parking space. If nothing else, keeping the need for single-vehicle spots flat will prevent (or at least delay) a search for funds to add more parking.
If you can take it one step further and significantly reduce your parking space requirements in a meaningful, lasting way, you'll find yourself with a new asset you can offer to neighboring businesses if the price is right.
"By right-sizing the parking demand to the number of available parking spaces, you can really bring a lot of benefit to the company," Bardacke says. "Rent out those parking spaces to other buildings and other users and drive revenue. You can really cut down the parking requirements of your own employees, and you free up the existing infrastructure for other parking."
Start by unbundling your parking. In most cases, parking is included in what you're paying for your building, whether it's a dedicated parking lot for a building you own or parking spaces allocated to the retail space you rent in a mall. Instead of renting an office space that comes with a set number of parking spaces, Litman says, rent the office for a set amount and require commuters to pay monthly for each parking space.
"By unbundling parking, you're allowing occupants to decide how many parking spaces they need," Litman adds. "If there's a conflict, the building operator just raises the price, so you're using price to determine how those parking spaces should be allocated."
Alternatively, you can present employees with a choice between a free parking space or a cash incentive to use some other form of transportation, a practice commonly called "parking cashout."
Surplus spaces can then be rented out to neighboring businesses, providing revenue that can then be redirected into other transportation management strategies, according to VTPI's encyclopedia. A few of the best spaces can be turned into reserved spots for certain types of transportation, such as carpools or vehicles that use alternative fuel.
Measure Your Success
The most basic measurement you should take on a regular basis is an annual survey asking how employees get to work. Compare the results with the initial survey you took before implementing alternative transportation initiatives. The comparison will show whether there has been a significant shift away from driving to work in single-occupancy vehicles.
For more detailed statistics, conduct parking lot or traffic counts, hold a focus group, or expand your survey to include more questions. Other important data, according to VTPI, includes:
- Before and after travel behavior, such as choice of commute mode and average vehicle ridership (the number of commuters divided by the number of private vehicle trips)
- Takeback effects, such as extra vehicle trips for telecommuters
- Participants' reactions
- Problems and obstacles, such as unanticipated costs or parking problems in nearby neighborhoods
- Costs and benefits to participants, such as higher heating and electricity consumption on telecommuting days vs. more convenience in childcare scheduling
- Costs and benefits to employers, including administrative costs and effects on productivity and recruitment
Continue measuring the program's effectiveness annually to ensure that your facility's transportation strategies still meet the needs of commuters and your facility. The best transportation plan is a customized menu of options that lets you serve the most people possible at the most manageable cost.
Janelle Penny (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of BUILDINGS.