1652319134862 B 0711 Alternative Transportation1

Create Low-Cost Choices for Commuters

June 30, 2011
Boost morale, gain green points, and tap into hidden revenue streams with an alternative transportation plan featuring low-cost choices for commuters.

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.

Common Commute Reduction Strategies

Public transit passes: Free or discounted passes are attractive to commuters who live near stops. Even full-price passes issued by your company as part of a cafeteria plan offer some savings since they're often paid for with pre-tax earnings.

Parking cashout: Employees can choose between a free parking space or money in exchange for utilizing alternative transportation. Even if the cash incentive doesn't reflect the full cost of the parking space, simply offering a choice will be a bonus to many. "In most cases, you have no alternative," Litman says. "You can't say 'No, I bicycle to work.' You now have a choice: will you take the free parking space or will you take the $100 a month cash equivalent if you use alternative transportation? About 20% of them say 'I'd rather have the money,' which means about 20% of urban traffic congestion is the result of a bias in our current practices that favors automobile commutes over other modes."

Carpools/vanpools: Ridesharing is more successful when the employer organizes a formal vanpooling program, Litman says.

Transportation management associations: Partner with nearby buildings or companies on the other floors in your building to expand your transportation plans. Adding more people allows you to take advantage of economies of scale; the more participants you have, the easier it is to match vanpoolers who live near each other and are heading to the same destination, for example.

Telecommuting: "Telecommuting is an alternative transportation strategy in the sense that no transportation is needed," Bardacke says. "If 20% of your workforce doesn't need a desk every day, then let's say everybody gets one day a week to work from home. Then you can reduce not only the parking you need to build, but also the space you need to acquire for your employees."


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."

Is This Strategy Working?

Measuring these common performance indicators will show how well your commute reduction strategies are working. For more information, define these indicators for a particular time (such as peak hour) or a geographic location (a particular destination, district, or region within your portfolio).

The percentage of potential users who are aware of the program

How many people respond to your outreach efforts

How many people use your transportation services or alternative modes of commuting

The number or portion of trips using a travel service or alternative mode

Mode split:
The percentage of travelers using each transportation mode offered

Mode shift:
The number or percentage of single-occupant automobile trips that have shifted to other modes of transportation

Average vehicle occupancy:
The number of people traveling in private vehicles, divided by the number of private vehicle trips (this excludes public transit users and walkers)

Average vehicle ridership:
All trips divided by the number of private vehicle trips

Vehicle trips or peak period vehicle trips:
The number of private vehicles arriving at a destination

Vehicle trip reduction:
The number or percentage of vehicles removed from traffic

Vehicle miles of travel reduced:
The number of trips reduced multiplied by the average trip length

Energy and emissions reductions:
The estimated reduction of vehicle emissions, calculated by multiplying the vehicle miles of travel reduced by the average vehicle energy consumption and emission rates

Cost per unit of reduction:
A measure of cost effectiveness calculated by dividing program costs by a common unit of change, such as cents per trip reduced or tons of air pollution avoided




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."



  • Learn what to ask in an employee transport survey
  • Understand how to narrow down transportation choices
  • Know how to anticipate shifts in modes of transportation
  • Assess potential parking solutions

Visit the CEU Test Center to take this test and receive credit

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 ([email protected]) is associate editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has been with BUILDINGS since 2010. She is a two-time FOLIO: Eddie award winner who aims to deliver practical, actionable content for building owners and facilities professionals.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Buildings, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations