This article was originally published by the Washington Business Journal.
Everyone knows that Washington D.C. makes the infamous list for worst traffic in America. But local governments and nonprofit transportation organizations in the region are doing much to combat this unhappy albatross.
TDM Takeaway Companies that are able to change the commuting behavior of their workers are rewarded and should be recognized.
In Arlington County, we are taking some 41,000 cars off the road per day with innovative transportation programs, bike lanes, bus routes — and, frankly, smarter commuters. This is due to a concerted effort that dates back to the 1960s to plan for and design alternative transportation options. Continued progress has in part been facilitated by area employers realizing that there is huge payoff in helping employees access transit benefits.
The many transportation options available to employers in our area allow companies to hire better, more motivated employees, who also tend to stay with their companies longer. The region benefits from additional commercial buying power in retail and restaurant sales, higher real-estate values, and lifestyle improvements.
We need to step up these efforts even more. Employers are key to spreading the word and helping to increase the number of people using alternate transit modes as they administer employee transportation benefits.
Arlington Transportation Partners educates employers throughout the county and region on ways to get workers out of their cars and into other means of healthier transport, such as transit, biking, walking and ride sharing. Considered the “bread and butter” of transportation demand management, or TDM, the business-to-business model of encouraging transit-benefits use is one Arlington Transportation Partners continues to champion.
Our Champions program, in fact, supported by Arlington County Commuter Services, is a template for companies to incrementally plan for and provide the best solutions for their specific organizational goals and transportation program needs. Initiatives that change commuting behaviors are rewarded.
Not only are companies thinking about this in terms of doing the right thing — getting people out of their cars and helping the environment — but they are also thinking about how this can affect their health benefits, another positive impact on companies’ bottom lines. Studies show that shorter commutes are associated with increased productivity.
Creating parity between transit and parking within transportation-benefits programs is key to continued progress.
In the recent past, the benefit available for transit was significantly reduced, causing a large financial divide between the benefit employees could use for parking expenses and transit. The IRS currently permits employees to use up to $130 for transit and $250 for parking tax-free per month for their commuting costs.
Recently, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed into law the Sustainable D.C. Omnibus Act of 2014. It will require employers with 20 or more staffers to offer a transit-benefit program by January 2016. As the first mandated transit-benefit program of this type in the region, Arlington Transportation Partners will be observing closely how D.C. communicates this mandate to employers and how it is received. Often, transit-benefit programs open the door for larger conversations about other programs, creating a more comprehensive package for employees to choose from. After all, successful transportation programs need to speak to all employees and not just those that are accessible to transit.
Photo by m01229.