An employee’s commute to and from work can be costly in terms of money spent on gas, insurance, and wear and tear on a vehicle, and the increased stress it brings. However, there are programs available that companies can support that will help alleviate employee stress, reduce absenteeism, save employees money and improve productivity.

“One of the benefits of a commuter program is that it provides a less-stressful commute to and from work,” says Tim Dilsaver, Pace Suburban Bus’ community affairs representative for Lake County, Ill. “It leads to a better parking situation, with companies often providing preferential parking to commuters; fewer cars in your office parking lot; and commuters getting a break on their personal car insurance because they’re not using their primary vehicle to get to and from work.”

Smart Business spoke with Dilsaver about commuter programs and the benefits they bring to both employees and companies.

How does a commuter program get organized at a company?

There are several types of commuter programs that people use. A couple of examples include public transportation and an informal employee carpool. But there are also commercial programs that can benefit both passengers and companies alike. One program, operated by Pace, uses vans that pick up passengers at existing bus and train stations and also can pick up people from their homes or at other predetermined locations.

Similar to an employee-organized carpool, this ride-sharing program utilizes vans that pick up groups of up to 13 people along a route and transport them to and from work. The vehicle is provided, as is the maintenance, gas, insurance, van washes and tolls.

Participants can choose their routes and select their pickup times. Furthermore, this program offers a Guaranteed Ride Home program in the event that a participant has to leave work early for, say, a family emergency. The cost of a taxi is reimbursed up to a certain amount when situations prevent a rider from being able to use the vanpool.

How do employees benefit from a commuter program?

Employees benefit by saving thousands on commuting expenses during the course of a year. They also benefit from having less stressful commutes. They don’t have to deal with the drudgery of a morning drive. Instead, while someone else is driving, they can sleep, prepare for the workday, talk with the other commuters or just watch the world go by. Employees also save because they’re putting less wear and tear on their personal vehicles and refueling less often.

How do companies benefit from commuter programs?

Companies benefit from commuter programs by having employees who arrive at work less stressed. It’s also a great way for those who don’t have reliable transportation to have an affordable and reliable way to get to work, which ultimately improves attendance and employee retention. Companies can provide premium spaces for vanpools and carpools and free up spaces in the company lot because the vans can hold as many as 13 passengers, which opens up additional parking.

They often appoint a transportation coordinator who oversees the program, enrolls employees in the pretax payroll deduction program, and chooses pickup and drop-off locations at the place of business.

A commuter program also can provide businesses with matching grants that can be used to set up a program. For example, with one program in Chicago and the collar counties of northern Illinois, the company puts up $2,000 that’s matched by the provider.

It can be used for a range of things, including signage that designates commuter program parking and to support raffles for items such as bikes to promote green transportation. It’s a great way for a company to support environmentally friendly alternatives to driving.

What are the common responses from companies and employees using such commuter programs?

Companies that participate in commuter programs are excited by the results. These programs start with one vehicle, and then word of mouth spreads quickly and companies soon have as many as 10 commuter vehicles bringing employees to and from work for all shifts, day and night.

Human resources personnel who promote the program say their employees really enjoy it. The HR representatives put sign-up sheets on the Internet to allow people to sign up and fill open spaces, which are quickly taken.

Employees say they save money compared to what they would spend driving their own car because the fees associated with the commuter program don’t come close to what they spend driving alone to and from work. They also skip the drudgery of daily drives and the traffic jams, and many employees say they would never go back to the daily drive.

Are there any environmental benefits companies can promote that are related to providing commuter programs to employees?

Commuter programs allow companies and employees a chance to reduce their carbon footprint by having fewer cars drive to and from the workplace. Less gas is consumed, traffic is reduced and many issues with crowded parking are resolved. Some companies have multiple vehicles running in the program, which means significantly fewer cars are traveling to the facility.

Tim Dilsaver is the community affairs representative for Lake County, Ill., at Pace Suburban Bus. Reach him at (847) 228-4282 or timothy.dilsaver@pacebus.com.

More information on Pace’s RideShare program is available at www.PaceRideShare.com.

Insights Transportation is brought to you by Pace Suburban Bus

Published in Chicago