GreenYour Staff commuting
Provide incentives for employees who carpool to work
Providing incentives for employees who carpool to work helps to encourage staff to use less-polluting methods for their commute, which in turn saves money, fossil fuels, and resources used to expand and improve infrastructure.
How to provide incentives for employees who carpool
Carpooling is especially beneficial in areas where public transportation is limited. Employees who carpool are able to take advantage of carpool lanes (where available), which decreases commute time and stress. Employers benefit from carpooling programs by reducing parking costs and realizing increased employee productivity and morale.
Let your imagination come up with your own unique incentives or try some of these options:
- Parking perks. Lower-cost or free parking might be especially desirable in an area where parking is expensive. Preferred parking in highly desirable locations, including spots near building entrances which are covered, are also popular. If your parking is currently free, consider charging a monthly fee to those who solo-commute, while keeping it free for those who carpool.
- Allow flexible work schedules. When carpooling, it's important to make it easier for employees to coordinate their schedules with their riding partners and/or travel during non-peak times. In addition, encourage supervisors to take carpoolers’ needs into consideration by making sure their workdays start and end at predictable times every day.
- Offer parking cash-out incentives. By providing cash in lieu of the individual parking spaces employees would otherwise use when traveling alone, you may significantly increase participation in your carpooling program.
- Prizes and discounts. Another option is to offer prizes and discounts, which are especially effective where parking is inexpensive.
- Reimburse staff who walk or take public transit to local business meetings: When ride-sharing, carpoolers are often left without a car with which to get to meetings. Giving them a cents-per-mile reimbursement for walking or taking public transit to a meeting will sweeten the deal. The city of Palo Alto, California, for instance, gives employees seven cents per mile for approved travel.
Establishing a car- or van-pool program
- Survey your staff. First, determine the potential for car- or van-pooling in your office. In particular, you will want to ask who is interested (and what incentives would motivate them to choose carpooling), where they live, and whether their schedules are regular enough to permit them to carpool.
- Choose a carpooling coordinator. This person will be responsible for coordinating the car- and van-pooling program. In particular, they will administer registration and communicate with human resources. You may want to ensure that this person also sits on your employee-run green team.
- Define minimums Determine the minimum number of people required to qualify for car- or van-pooling benefits. Many organizations choose three people or more, but if your parking space is particularly limited, you may wish to opt for a higher number.
- Promote external rideshare options. For those employees who can’t find carpool partners, rideshare databases make it easy to pair commuters who live and work in close proximity. You may want to develop a formal partnership with one of these organizations to simplify the process for your employees.
- Determine eligibility and registration requirements. If you have a large proportion of temporary employees, you may wish to limit carpooling incentives to only those who work a minimum number of hours per week. Likewise, if you have multiple worksites, you may decide that only certain locations qualify for carpooling benefits. Once you have determined eligibility, have all participating employees register annually with your carpooling coordinator to prevent fraud.
- Provide parking and vehicle signage. Identify which parking spaces are for car- and van-poolers by posting signs on the appropriate parking spots. In addition, it's recommended that you provide decals for carpoolers to display in their vehicles.
- Monitor and maintain carpooling guidelines. It's a good idea to have a system for enforcing the preferred parking guidelines you have created. This may include defining penalties for those who park illegally in car- or van-pooling spaces. If your facilities are large enough, you could provide a gated parking area for carpoolers, accessible only to those with the specified number of people in the vehicle.
Some commuters are concerned that if they carpool, they'll be stranded in times of emergency. To reduce these fears, you may want to establish a ride-home-policy. One option is to offer a company vehicle for those who need to rush home for personal reasons or during particularly bad weather. Another option is to pay taxi fare for those needing to leave work unexpectedly.
Once you've chosen what transit benefits you'll offer, make sure you let your employees know about the program.
- Have a zip code party. Bring all employees together at one time and have them place a marker on a city map where they live. This will help people visualize who lives close to them, and hopefully open up carpooling discussions.
- Send out emails and notices to all staff about the programs and how they can benefit from them.
- Use your company newsletter to provide regular information about the program, including practical tips, accomplishments, etc.
- Enhance your company image by publicizing your commitment to alternative commuting methods through press releases, interviews, and events.
- Organize a company-wide alternative transportation day to educate your entire staff about the benefits of cycling, walking, carpooling, and public transit.
- Develop a listserv where employees can communicate with one another about their commuting habits. This can be a place where staff find like-minded people.
- Include program and incentive information in new hire packets. Make sure every new employee knows about the program and how they can become involved.
Find it! Rideshare providers and ridematching systems
These resources help employers and employees identify commuting partners:
Facebook Carpool application makes sharing a ride safer and easier by allowing Facebook members to find rides. To use this feature, you must sign up for Facebook, then do a search for ‘carpool’ to find the application.
Providing incentives for employees who carpool helps your office go green because…
- It encourages staff to work together to reduce their overall CO2 emissions.
- It decreases the land area required for automobile parking, and therefore reduces water runoff and pollution.
- By taking cars off the road, congestion is cut, noise is decreased, and motor vehicle accidents are reduced.
The average US household, with two mid-sized vehicles, emits upwards of 20,000 pounds of CO2 every year. An oversized carbon footprint reflects poorly on a business trying to green-up their reputation, but can also mean excess financial costs. Building a single surface parking space can range from $2,000-$5,000; a space in a two to three story structure anywhere from $10,000-$12,000. In addition, these parking spaces must be maintained, at a cost of 1.5 percent on the initial capital cost per year. These concrete auto storage units decrease permeable surface area, increase water runoff and pollution, and to the extent that they encourage people to use vehicles, also increase air pollution, congestion, noise, and motor vehicle accidents.
For every person who opts to carpool over solo-commuting, one car is removed from the road and the parking lot. Commuter incentives increase the number of individuals participating in carpooling programs. For instance, in a city where parking costs $2.60 per day, a $1.30 per day carpooling subsidy reduces commute trips by 43.6 percent. These programs often require some kind of financial investment, but usually result in savings for the company. In particular, by encouraging carpooling, employers can reduce the need for parking, which can result in costs savings between $360 and $2,000 per parking space each year.
The Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, has an extensive carpooling program that includes monthly and quarterly prize-draws and preferred parking areas, a program that costs $15,000 per year for 4,200 employees. On average, Nike employees make 400 carpool trips per week. Fred Meyer’s multi-department stores in the Pacific Northwest provide vanpools for employees, which saves a cumulative 800,000 miles per year, and amounts to about $50,000 in avoided gasoline costs.
Tax breaks and subsidies
Federal tax provisions allow businesses to provide tax-free fringe benefits to employees. Parking benefits may be provided tax-free up to $205 per month, and are accrued by businesses and employees alike. For more information on this program, see the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Best Workplaces for Commuters report on Commuter Tax Benefits.
In addition to federal benefits, some states offer their own tax incentives for companies wishing to discourage solo-commuter habits:
- Oregon’s Business Energy Tax Credit: Encourages investments in energy conservation. These can apply to bicycle projects, car sharing projects, and commuter pooling of vehicles.
- Washington State Tax Credit and Rideshare Subsidy Grant for Employers: Available for businesses that provide subsidies to employees who use public transit, state ferries, carpooling, or cycling as their primary means for commuting to work.
- Commuter Choice: A nationwide partnership designed to help employers create customized solutions to their employees’ commuting challenges.
- GreenBiz - Seven Key Steps to Reducing Your Office’s Contribution to Climate Change
- University of South Florida’s Ridematching Systems: A set of links to car- and van-pooling services.
- TaxFreeTransit.org: A public service dedicated to raising awareness about the tax-saving advantages of riding mass transit.