We live in a car-crazy culture that provides many direct and indirect subsidies to driving and parking. It can be difficult to make the case for the benefits of transportation options.
For that matter, it can be tough just to ride a bike in traffic or walk through the neighborhood.
But Arlington Transportation Partners has given a voice to people who move around in all sort of ways – not just their personal automobiles – in Arlington County, Va., since 1998.
As a pioneer in transportation demand management, ATP works with businesses and educates residents on how to get people out of those often soul-crushing drive-alone car trips. Outreach to employers is central to the mission, and the program partners with more than 870 employers, which in turn employ some 148,000 people.
ATP encourages organizations to promote alternatives to cars by subsidizing employee transit use and educating workers about options for and advantages of bus, rail, carpooling, vanpooling, biking, and walking. Notable clients include Boeing, Nestle, and the Public Broadcasting Service.
ATP also works with nearly 500 multifamily residential communities, commercial properties, hotels, and schools.
After all, according to Program Director Wendy Duren, having great transit options is of limited use if people don’t know about them. Under one initiative, apartment complexes offer new tenants information on nearby transit options and prepaid SmarTrip cards for rail and bus trips.
As a final piece of the puzzle for reducing drive-alone rates, ATP – a division of Arlington County Commuter Services – offers a helping hand from the government to real-estate developers to incorporate TDM principles into all new large-building projects. (This matters because, unlike in Seattle, where planners and municipal officials have succeeded in thanks to a state law requiring employers to encourage mobility options, no such legislation applies to Arlington.)
Nevertheless, Duren added, “Although Arlington County does not require employers to incorporate TDM strategies with their employees, we have some of the most robust TDM requirements at the building level.”
Educating about the sea of transportation options
Getting Arlington County commuters out of their cars is a challenge because nearly 80 percent of workers live in surrounding communities. While the Washington, D.C. region’s Metro is an option for many, the system does not reach places further away from D.C., like Loudoun and Prince William counties. Additionally, safety and service concerns over recent years have increased pressure on ATP to encourage a great variety of commuter options beyond Metro.
Duren said the SafeTrack and Back2Good programs undertaken by the Washington Metro Area Transit Administration are gradually returning the rail system to good repair and renewed dependability. She noted that reliability is crucial to bringing people to transit.
Other options for Arlington County commuters include multiple bus systems, Virginia Railway Express, and vanpools for people living as far away as Delaware and Pennsylvania.
As the video below notes, Duren said, “So much that we do is just building awareness of what’s out there.”
She also said that encouraging walking and biking by, for example, providing lockable bike parking and showers in office buildings is crucial to achieving ATP’s mission. Of course, biking and walking often constitute the first and last legs of transit commutes. They also deliver the added benefits of starting and ending a workday by doing something healthy and feeling revitalized.
Finding success over the long term
Currently, Duren said, “60 percent of our employers are offering a transit benefit.”
She went on to explain that her organization keeps extensive data from surveys. Reviewing 20 plus years of feedback revealed that ATP initiatives are responsible for 53 percent of the 40,900 fewer daily single-occupancy vehicle trips attributable to all of the TDM programs untaken by Arlington County Commuter Services.
“We definitely can speak to the fact that we’ve seen increases when transit programs and amenities are included,” Duren said.
The power of persuasion
In addition to taking cars off the road, ATP has assisted with cutting pollution and slowing the growth of road congestion.
Largely lacking governmental carrots and sticks, ATP relies on the power of persuasion and focuses on directly addressing the needs of business partners. When beginning a new collaboration, Duren said, “we definitely try to find out what” a business’s “current challenges are, whether it’s retention issues with employees, getting employees to work on time, having employees stressed out driving alone, or dealing with D.C. traffic.”
ATP employers then emphasize why transit, walking, and biking are “important to their business, and to the county.” Top-line benefits include saving money and having happier, healthier employees.
To keep businesses engaged and provide recognition and rewards, ATP started the Champions program in 2013. Each year, it recognizes platinum, gold, silver, and bronze champions. As a platinum-level Champion, for example, Park Georgetown Apartments “strives to offer something for everyone,” according to Duren.
The apartment building keeps Zipcars onsite and offers “free transit fare cards preloaded with $10 for all new residents to help new Arlingtonians learn their transit options,” she explained. It also gives residents Capital Bikeshare coupons.
Other services provided by participants in the Champions program include shuttles, adopting bus stops, carshare memberships, flex time, telecommuting, and walk-at-lunch days.
There should be TDM programs everywhere, in places big and small
Duren pointed out that “transportation demand management is very cost-effective. It’s a lot less expensive than building new roads and bridges.”
In financially strapped times, Duren noted that TDM allows localities to “leverage their current infrastructure that’s already in place, and make sure they’re getting the best out of it, to make it run more efficiently.”
Cities and counties interested in following Arlington County’s model could start by asking, “What is it that the community is facing?” Duren suggested.
“Are they having congestion issues? Are they having air-quality problems? Are they having access-to-job concerns?”
A good second step can be implementing employer programs that take advantage of federal tax breaks for offering transit incentives to employees. After that, looking into ways to direct federal congestion-mitigation and air-quality funds toward TDM programs can pay off, as it has for ATP.
Duren wants other transit agencies looking into TDM to understand that ATP “started small and then built it up from there.” The group moved from working with employers to residential and commercial buildings and schools – and from stressing immediate benefits to providing wider education.
Photo by Reema Desai for Arlington Transportation Partners.