We know commuting isn’t a top priority for many people and employers right now. But, as quarantine regulations begin to be lifted or extended, companies are going to need to analyze how they’re going to move forward. Part of the process is building a commute management strategy that complies with local regulations while providing safe commute options for employees.
The DC Council approved the Transportation Benefits Equity Act of 2019 in the beginning of April. DC employers now have two major reasons to think about improving their existing commute management program or implementing one for when commuting begins again.
Background of the bill
This is technically classified as a parking cash-out bill, but there is more than just evening the playing field. Employers have the option to choose one (or more) of four different solutions in order to comply. The solutions are:
- Clean Air Transportation Fringe Benefits
- This requires employers to provide benefits to employees who get to work by alternative forms of commuting (not driving alone).
- Clean Air Compliance Fee
- This requires employers to pay a $100-per-month fee for each employee being offered a parking spot.
- Implementing a transportation demand management strategy
- Eliminate free parking for employees
It’s also important to note that this doesn’t apply to employers who own the parking spots offered to their employees. That also goes for employers who are in the middle of a parking lease. Those employers will need to comply at the beginning of their next parking lease, if they choose to continue offering free employee parking.
We know this is a very abbreviated overview and there’s much more that goes into the bill. To read more, head over to our overview post of the bill for a full breakdown.
Communication is key
Okay, now that we briefly discussed the new bill, let's get into what and how you should go about building a commute management program in the current commuting climate.
The first step in creating a commute management program is communication with your employees. No two employees have the same commute; that was true before quarantine and is most certainly going to be true after. Discussing this with your employees now, even just to get them to begin thinking about the return to work, will give you a huge head start on the process.
You need to ask employees about their return plans and how they’re going to get to the office. Seasoned Metro riders are going to be extremely cautious of getting back on crowded trains or buses. More people are going to be tempted to drive because of the seclusion cars provide. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be possible or sustainable for a lot of employers and employees in the nation’s capital. Luckily, DC has more than a few options to make commuting safe.
There’s going to be an emphasis on bike commutes once quarantine restrictions are lifted. This is an opportunity for employers to help their employers convert from driving to biking, or even public transit to biking. Bikes provide employees to distance themselves from other commuters, without turning to cars as the solution.
Bikeshare: Washington, DC, has the nation’s oldest bikeshare program, beginning in 2008. Capital Bikeshare now operates more than 4,300 bikes and 500 docking stations around DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. Safe to say it’s grown! They have also added 500 electric bikes to their fleet in the past year to help riders better keep up with the flow of traffic.
Capital Bikeshare also offers a tiered corporate membership program which allows employers to cover some or all of their employees’ costs. Below is a breakdown of the pricing per tier for both employers and employees.
- Bronze: Employer - $12.50 per year ; Employee: $37.50 per year
- Silver: Employer - $25 per year ; Employee: $25 per year
- Gold: Employer - $50 per year ; Employee $0 per year
JUMP bikes and Helbiz also operate pedal-assist bikes around DC, making riding that much easier. These bikes are also dockless, meaning riders can hop on, ride, and drop their bike at their destination, rather than parking at a dock. Another positive: Electric and pedal-assist bikes take less of a physical toll on riders than traditional pedal bikes.
The top three reasons people are reluctant to switch to a bicycle as their main form of transportation are hills, the distance of their destinations, and arriving to their destination sweaty, according to a survey by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities. The same survey found that nearly 83% of people who own an e-bike feel they can go further than a traditional pedal bike, and 34% of respondents regularly use their e-bike for commuting. Meaning e-bikes can lead to higher bike adoptions rates because of the physical barriers that can be holding your employees back.
We know using public bikes may not be at the top of the list for commuting, but each company is practicing strict sanitation policies to ensure each riding experience is as safe as possible. You can head to each company’s website (Capital Bikeshare, JUMP, Helbiz) to learn more about their COVID practices.
Bike rental programs: Company-administered bike rentals is a program we’ve heard about recently for employers to keep employees from driving. Turning into a bike commuter isn’t easy for a lot of people. There are financial burdens, safety concerns, and a general feeling of not knowing. That’s where a program like this can help remove those holdbacks.
Helping employees rent a bike for a month allows them to find the best route, feel safe, and help them decide if buying a bike will be a valuable investment. Plus, they know where the bikes have been and who has been using them.
There are several different ways to go about operating a program like this. Unless you get enough bikes for each employee to have one, you’re going to have to set up a rental system. You can choose employees who relied heavily on public transit to have the first choice of participation. This gives a second option and time to acclimate to a new commute.
Bike groups: Employees may need a little motivation or encouragement to get back on their bike every day. Creating an employee bike group for those who biked to work pre-COVID provides peer encouragement. This group mentality can help ease safety concerns when riding.
As we mentioned, your employees could gravitate toward driving for the return to the office because of the lack of interaction with others. You can make the most of employees driving with a carpool program.
Carpooling affords the distance from other commuters, while not putting too many cars on the road. If you have limited parking, you’re going to have to take some further measures like priority parking or gas cards to save your employees both time and money.
Your employees can still take advantage of the Metro as well. How? By using their kiss and ride parking as meeting places to carpool together. This is perfect for employees coming in from more suburban areas who would previously have taken transit to work. They can choose a central Metro station to meet, then head downtown.
Work from home
After the dust settles and more and more employees come back to the office, you shouldn’t be surprised if some employees don’t return. Not because they’re quitting — just because they’re not coming to the office. There’s been a realization among companies (and employees) that working from home on a consistent basis is possible. There’s a level of trust and accountability gained almost overnight and built on over the past few months.
Now that companies realize they don’t need their entire workforce in the physical office, office experiences will change. The same goes for employees. Why make the trek to the office everyday when they can get the same amount of work, or more, done at home?
If employees choose to go the route of staying home, you might have to help make their home workspace as close to a replica as their office work space. Work-from-home benefits may be newer, but could become a norm in many commute management or TDM efforts. This means providing a monitor for their house, maybe help with an office chair, or a new desk (if you want to go above and beyond). If you want to keep employees by helping them adjust to a new work style, it may be in your best interest to provide some assistance.
Public transit and modified work schedules
We know we’ve been harping on commuters' reluctance to ride public transit after quarantines are lifted. It’s definitely not because we don’t love the Metro and buses. We love them with all our hearts! But all types of close, confined spaces are less than safe until there is a vaccine or a treatment for COVID. Unfortunately, some employees may still need to continue riding after this. To make public transit as safe as possible for your employees, you can offer modified work schedules.
That means allowing your employees to come to the office from 7 a.m. - 3 p.m. or 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. rather than the standard schedule. These modified hours mean employees can either get ahead of or wait out rush hour commuting times, so public transit options may be less crowded. You could also let employees take half days where they work from home in the morning and come to the office in the afternoon. The most important thing is helping them feel as safe as possible through new work experiences.
We’ve touched on different avenues and measures you can take to create a commute management program. While post-COVID commuting is a main focus for many employers, employers in D.C. have even more to think about with the passing of the Transportation Benefits Equity Act of 2019. Luckily, offering many of the programs from above can lead to compliance under this bill.