Friday, July 27, 2012


Slaying the dragon of transportation: the Solo Commute to Work

Part 1: How three major Burlington employers though a staff of four slayed the dragon of solo driving in the first decade of this century

No so many years ago the Burlington, VT “Campus Area Transportation Management Association”, CATMA for short, ventured into the land of solo driving with the purpose of shifting students and employees toward greener pastures: abandoning the solo commute to work, jumping onto public transit, leaving cars home during school sessions, getting into carpools, for those still insistent traveling by car shifting them part way by into using peripheral lots and taking shuttles to worksites or classes, and walking or bicycling part or all of any trip. The CATMA bosses—the troika of University of Vermont, Fletcher Allen Health Care and Champlain College—total 10,000 employees and and 16,000 students.

The huge CATMA bureaucracy of four employees documents through periodic surveys since 2000 an amazing alteration of the transportation landscape of its troika with a 18% reduction of solo commuting, students shifting in part from bringing their cars to using Vermont Carshare services, and through partnering with the Burlington area bus provider, CCTA, helping that service move about 500 commuters onto three radiating commuter corridors out of Burlington in the Link buses, services all started within the past few years.

The 2010 CATMA survey finding of 56% of workers still solo commuting compares to a figure of 74% in 2000, a drop of 18%.   In fact the solo driving of the employees at 74% in 2000 varied little from the Census 75% statewide average for all workers statewide. The drop of about 18% in solo driving 2000 to the end of the decade does not include another roughly 12% of the solo drivers who park in peripheral lots and bus shuttle to the workplace. All in all about 30% of the troika workforce of 10,000 switched off from “pure” solo commuting since 2000.

In the 1990s transportation policy makers and planners advocated shifting commuters from solo and the untested estimates were that perhaps 10% could be encouraged though rideshare programs and incentives to get to work in some other fashion than the solo commute. The U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) initiated a “commuter choice” program and Vermont was one of the test areas aimed at the private and public employers (CATMA coordinated that effort). Commuter choice concentrated mostly on "demand management", that is, shifting solo commuters so as to reduce the number of cars on the highways, needs for parking, etc.  Still, a Vermont Department of Labor employee benefits survey last year revealed that transportation subsidies by employers ranged from 4% for employers of 1-9 workers and only 10% for the largest employers of 250 or more workers.  (Note a surface parking space which costs $30-$60 a month did not appear to be a viewed a “transportation subsidy” to the empoyers responding to the State survey.)

A combination of initiatives and fortuitous parallel developments contributed to the success of the solo commuter reduction by CATMA.  Regardless CATMA stands the mythology of the unchangeable solo commuter with the ubiquitous Ipod playlist, Starbucks cuppa, and personal parking space into just that: a myth.  In following posts, elements of the CATMA program will be detailed, parallel developments decribed, and some of the federal transportation benefits outlined.

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