Incent your employees to carpool.
By Paul McGrath
Like the old adage about real estate, “location, location, location,” for a successful trip-reduction program, it’s all about participation. This is especially true for the ridesharing element of a program, where a “critical mass” of participants is needed to provide good ride-matching possibilities.
While ridesharing, or carpooling, is usually the most challenging part of a trip-reduction program, it’s also the alternative commute mode available to most of your employees, and is very cost effective because it makes use of a huge transportation resource that already exists and is already paid for—the empty seats in your employees’ cars.
So how can you make carpooling work more effectively for your company and your employees? First, there needs to be a large enough number of participants to ensure good ride-matching possibilities. You need a system where your employees can have a high degree of confidence that they will find a good carpool match. You also need a critical mass of available rides that cover the geographic area around your worksite and offer a variety of arrival and departure times. Only then will a rideshare system become truly useful. At low levels of participation, with few rides available, the probability of finding a suitable ride match is slim. Therefore, at low participation levels, the system will fail to work well even for those participants who are enthusiastic. This is why maximizing participation is so important for ridesharing.
Unfortunately, participation in regional rideshare programs is generally low—usually less than 1 percent of total commuters. To put this in perspective, if you work at a company with 1,000 employees you can expect to find fewer than 10 coworkers on the regional rideshare program, and the probability of finding someone in that group who lives near you, with a similar schedule, is rather slim. It might be possible to find a suitable match from a neighboring company, but carpooling with a stranger is unappealing to many. Commuters usually prefer to carpool with a coworker or someone they know, as this data from Commute Profile 2005 shows:
Household members 34%
Friends or Neighbors 11%
Casual Carpool 5%
Non-household Relative 4%
One way to maximize participation and improve ride-matching possibilities is with a company-focused approach. Such a program can be very effective and can be achieved with:
• A company-specific rideshare system that allows employees to share commute information and carpool with coworkers. There are several vendors that provide company-specific rideshare systems.
• Regular promotion.
• Regular incentives to encourage employees to participate and then reward behavior.
A company-focused approach with regular promotion and incentives can achieve participation rates of 20 to 50 percent. For companies with over 500 employees, this achieves the critical mass required to make ride-matching work within the organization.
Not only will a company-focused approach be more appealing to staff, but management are also more likely to buy in to and support a program that encourages employees to carpool with fellow employees. Some employers are reluctant to fully promote regional rideshare programs at the worksite because of confidentiality, or concerns about potential poaching if their employees are carpooling with commuters from competitive organizations.
To maximize participation at your company, consider regular prizes for incentives, rather than cash rewards. Prize drawings generate news, making it easy to regularly promote your trip-reduction program by announcing who won what, and what prizes are available each month. A prize-based incentive scheme is a powerful promotional tool that continuously builds participation over time. It’s also considerably more cost effective. For example, Nike with 5,100 employees in Portland, Oregon, reduced their commute-incentive bill from $250,000 to $41,000 per year by switching from a cash-out to a prize-based incentive scheme.
So should you go with a company-focused rideshare or a regional rideshare program? For large companies, the answer is both! You can significantly boost participation with a company-focused system. However, it’s always good to make your employees aware of any regional rideshare programs that are also available. It’s all about maximizing the number of potential carpool partners available to your employees. The more carpool partners available, the more likely your employees will find the perfect carpool match.
Paul McGrath is founder and CEO of RideSpring, an incentive-based commuter program serving clients including SAP, Fenwick & West, Gap, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.