Reducing rush-hour automobile commuting is a goal that local governments, residents, and businesses have rallied around in dozens of cities. Businesses often bear the expense of providing parking for their employees, and they also bear the cost of reduced productivity associated with congestion and long commutes. A growing body of evidence suggests that, compared to drive-alone commuting, workers who walk, bike, carpool, or ride transit to work arrive energized and refreshed, and experience lower rates of mental health issues.
Cities have used a combination of voluntary programs and mandatory regulations to get employers to provide incentives and support for workers who carpool, take transit, walk, bike, or telecommute, in what are often referred to as transportation demand management (TDM) efforts.
Cities have used a combination of voluntary programs and mandatory regulations to get employers to provide incentives and support for workers who carpool, take transit, walk, bike, or telecommute, in what are often referred to as transportation demand management (TDM) efforts. Typical practices of TDM programs include:
- Providing information.
- Promoting the business benefits of transportation demand management to employers.
- Developing comprehensive programs with mutually reinforcing services across a variety of travel modes.
- Providing incentives for transit and alternative modes.
- Creating disincentives for driving (through parking and pricing policies, etc.)
- Creating ordinances that reinforce TDM goals.
- Establishing caps on trips to or from a given area.
In rapidly growing cities, city governments are attempting to grow more efficiently by requiring new development to provide access to transportation options in addition to, or instead of, parking. One of the most comprehensive development-based policies is San Francisco’s “Shift” TDM law, enacted in 2017. Under the law, most multifamily buildings and commercial buildings over 10,000 square feet must include a number of incentives, amenities, and other strategies to reduce driving by tenants. These include:
- Reducing the amount of provided parking, charging tenants for parking, and unbundling parking (separating the cost to rent or buy a unit from the cost to rent or buy a parking space).
- Investing in pedestrian or bicycle infrastructure or on-site amenities.
- Providing free or discounted transit passes and carsharing or bikesharing memberships for tenants.
- Adopting land-use strategies, like the inclusion of affordable housing (low-income tenants have been shown to drive less) and on-site day-care facilities and grocery stores in neighborhoods that lack them (which reduces the need for tenants to make lengthy trips).
Similar requirements exist in communities large and small, including in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Bloomington, Minnesota; Washington, DC; and Arlington County, Virginia. These provisions build support for transit and active transportation into new development, allowing cities to grow without generating more traffic. (To learn more about these and other local development policies that support a balanced transportation system, read TransitCenter’s All Transportation is Local policy guide.)
Other jurisdictions have adopted or considered “parking cash-out”—a policy that requires businesses that offer free parking to their employees to give non-driving workers a cash payment of equivalent value. Parking cash-out can benefit employers by reducing the number of parking spaces they must rent to provide to their employees. It also benefits workers, the transportation system, and the environment by eliminating a powerful incentive for employees to drive to work alone. California adopted a parking cash-out law for certain employers in 1992, but many exemptions as well as a lack of enforcement have limited the implementation of this policy. A 1997 survey of California employers who had implemented parking cash-out found that drive-alone commuting to work declined by 17 percent. Efforts are now underway to improve enforcement of the California law, and the District of Columbia is considering a similar measure.
Other cities and states require employers or developers to reduce the number of vehicle trips to their facilities. Cambridge, Massachusetts, for example, has a Parking and Transportation Demand Management Ordinance that requires large, nonresidential facilities adding 20 or more parking spaces to meet specific mode-share targets, adopt TDM measures, and monitor and report their progress. Washington State’s Commute Trip Reduction Law requires employers with more than 100 workers in specified areas of the state to adopt plans designed to reduce the number of solo car commuters to their workplaces.
The presence of high-quality, well-resourced TDM programs can help businesses to expand the range and improve the quality of the commute options available to their employees. TDM programs have shown impressive results in shifting travel habits. Arlington County, Virginia, for example, operates a comprehensive TDM program that, as of 2011, was helping to shift more than 40,000 car trips per workday to higher-occupancy modes of travel—reducing vehicle-miles traveled, congestion, and pollution. The program has a goal of reducing the share of trips taken by single-occupancy vehicles by 0.5 percent each year for the next 20 years. Many colleges and universities have created similar programs aimed at students and staff.
Cities that are looking to counteract the effect of the parking tax subsidy can use TDM efforts in several ways:
First, they can use TDM programs to disseminate information about how best to comply with commuter benefits ordinances. The city of San Francisco, for example, provides employers with lists of third-party transit benefit administrators they can use to help them comply with the law.
Second, TDM programs can participate in decisions about the distribution of revenues from parking taxes or other sources of revenue. Washington State’s Commute Trip Reduction Board is empowered by law to allocate grants to help large businesses comply with the requirement to develop plans to reduce drive-alone commuting. The board consists of state, regional, and local government officials, business leaders, transit agency representatives, and citizens.
Third, TDM programs can use a wide range of innovative strategies to encourage workers to share rides or leave their cars at home. Often, these programs are carried out by Transportation Management Associations (TMAs), public-private organizations that bring businesses, government, and nonprofits together to develop solutions to employee transportation challenges. Approaches used by TMAs include:
- An annual “Bicycle Challenge” organized by MassCommute, a statewide association of TMAs in Massachusetts, in which workplaces compete to bike the most miles over the course of a single week. In 2016, nearly 2,500 riders logged more than 150,000 miles in the Challenge—a new record.
- A “transportation store” that dispenses transit fares, bike gear, and maps and works to improve biking and walking conditions within the district operated by Portland, Oregon’s “Go Lloyd” TMA.
- “Mobility Lab,” which serves as a national resource for research, best practices, and innovation in TDM, sponsored by Arlington County’s Commuter Services agency.
TDM efforts receive only a tiny fraction of the funding provided to highway expansion or maintenance. Federal funding, which supplies two-thirds of all government TDM funds in the US, amounted to $40 million in 2014, equivalent to about 0.1 percent of federal funding for highways. By allocating funds—including funds raised through parking taxes and other means—to TDM activities, cities can help to counteract the habits, cultural norms, and subsidies that push workers to commute to work alone by car and can often help them find healthier, cheaper, and more efficient ways to get to work.