There are many reasons to embrace transportation demand management (TDM), among them environmental, public health, and economic benefits. But as commutes in metro areas all over the country become longer, one of the most compelling reasons behind businesses choosing to offer mobility perks is the boost they see in their own recruitment and retention efforts.
Amazon’s recent search for a home for its second headquarters near public transit highlighted a growing awareness among employers of the important role the commute plays in productivity and health. But it’s not just major corporations conducting nationwide site searches that are rethinking how commuting impacts their workforce.
Employers that move locally within their own cities, as well as established employers that simply want to attract talent, are creating mobility policies and plans that allow them to offer commute benefits, from flexible hours to subsidized transit passes.
In Austin, Texas, Cirrus Logic began working with the regional transportation management association, Movability, when it moved from a suburban Austin area into the central business district. As part of the preparations for that move, Cirrus’ leadership started thinking about the limitations that would come with a downtown location and knew the company would need to find ways other than drive-alone commutes to get its employees to work.
“We didn’t have enough parking spaces for every person at our new location,” says Bill Schnell, public relations manager at Cirrus Logic. “We started talking with Movability, who helped us implement employee surveys and engage interest in various forms of alternative transportation to find out how we could increase the number of people who would otherwise drive alone to work each day.”
The company started by reimbursing employees who used the commuter light rail, and then expanded those reimbursements for all transit modes. But in the Texas summer heat, the one-mile gap between the light rail station and the office was challenging, so the company began what it calls its “blue line,” a shuttle that runs between the downtown rail station and the office.
Based on Movability’s survey, Cirrus knew that many of its employees live in South Austin, which meant the train wasn’t an option – the current light rail only runs between the suburbs to the north of Austin and downtown. So the company then started its “orange line,” a private shuttle for Cirrus employees that runs between a South Austin parking lot – the company rents parking spaces from a church – and Cirrus’ office twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. The shuttle includes free WiFi, water, and pastries. Once a set of managed toll lanes on one of the city’s main highways opened in late 2017, Cirrus started running a similar shuttle from north Austin, dubbing it the “green line.” Vanpools and transit can use those managed lanes for free.
In addition to the shuttles and transit reimbursement, Cirrus provides bike facilities and has a number of employees who have moved downtown for a significantly shorter commute. Today, approximately 20 percent of its employees commute by bus, shuttle, train, biking, or walking.
Those initiatives have paid off. Cirrus Logic enjoys a 93 percent retention rate, much higher than the national industry average of 82 percent. And the company has doubled the number of employees over the last seven years.
“We think there’s great benefits to the community in taking cars off the road, including environmental benefits,” Schnell says. “But we also pride ourselves being a great place to work. We took the initiative ourselves to become a transportation provider and provide vanpools, and that helps us in recruiting.”
In order to help all of its members get the biggest boost possible out of commute benefits, Movability has teamed up with Best Workplaces for Commuters to offer free help filling out an application for a Best Workplaces for Commuters designation. Sixteen of Movability’s members have completed applications, and several have been notified that they will make the national list of Best Workplaces for Commuters.
“Employers that offer robust commute benefits and help their employees find alternative commutes send a signal to talented candidates that they value their time and health,” says Alix Scarborough, Movability’s membership and professional services director. “That’s a good boost to have in today’s competitive market. And it also helps employers’ bottom lines, as it often saves them money on parking.”
Photo of the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge in Austin by Bill Dickinso