Summer 2012

The average American spends 50 minutes a day traveling to and from work – and most of us would like our commutes to be shorter, cheaper, and less stressful. Several companies in metropolitan Chicago, including Labelmaster, are helping ease this daily burden for employees while bolstering their own corporate sustainability goals through Commute Options.

Employers unlock gridlock, achieve sustainability goals through Commute Options pilot

“Despite the excellent transportation access to our campus, we knew there was room to improve our employees’ commutes, their productivity, and our company’s carbon footprint,” said Peggi Boyd, chief people officer, Labelmaster. “We decided to participate in the Commute Options pilot to help us accomplish all three goals in partnership with nonprofits and transportation providers across the Chicago area.”

With some 170 employees, Labelmaster designs, manufactures and distributes products that help businesses comply with hazardous materials regulations. The company’s campus on Chicago’s northwest side has easy access to two expressways and is well served by public transportation, including Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) buses that connect to two CTA elevated train lines and two Metra commuter rail stations.

Through Commute Options, a pilot begun in 2010 and administered by the nonprofit Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), more than a dozen employers are providing options and incentives to encourage their employees to trade driving solo to work for a different type of commute. For each participating employer, MPC conducts an upfront survey and evaluation of their employees (at no cost to the employer), using the results to craft a customized program that encourages as many employees as possible to choose alternatives to driv­ing alone.

The results of Labelmaster’s survey showed that while more than half live within 10 miles of work, commute times are slow: 53 percent of respondents travel 30 minutes or longer one way. Parking is free, yet more than than 40 percent of employees do not drive; most use public transit.

“I live in Lincoln Park, only seven miles from Labelmaster, but roadway congestion and poor traffic signal timing on Lincoln Avenue generally turns my commute into a 45-minute trip,” said Michael Chapman, Labelmaster social media and e-marketing manager. “In the evenings, depending on construction and events like Cubs games, it can be stretched to an hour.”

At a December 2011 benefits fair, Labelmaster let employees know about several options that can help ease their commutes:

  • Pace Rideshare, a free, easy and convenient matching service that connects commuters who are interested in forming a carpool or vanpool in and around Northeastern Illinois;
  • Pre-tax transit commuter benefit, which enables employees to pay for transit passes with pre-tax dollars; and
  • Employer-Assisted Housing, through which employees can receive downpayment assistance and homebuyer education to buy a home near work – potentially addressing both their commute time and total housing and transportation expenses.

“Pace is pleased to partner with employers such as Labelmaster, who want to offer their employees options for getting to and from work,” said Richard Kwasneski, chairman of the Board, Pace. “Through Pace Rideshare, employees can identify potential carpool partners quickly and securely, saving them time and money on their commutes.”

New in 2012, Labelmaster also implemented an Emergency Ride Home program, which provides a no-cost taxi ride for employees who commute by public transit, ridesharing, biking, or walking, in the case of illiness or emergency. In addition, Labelmaster is beginning to encourage employees to bike to work and promoted this approach at another benefits fair in June. After Labelmaster has had time to market these options to employees, MPC will survey employees again to examine behavior changes, environmental impact, and cost savings for both employees and the company.

Support from D.C.?

As employers explore options to ease workers’ commutes and reduce their housing and transportation expenses, legislators in Washington, D.C., are working to reach consensus on the next federal surface transportation bill. The Senate’s proposal is Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21); the House’s is H.R. 4348.

The nation needs a new transportation bill – to repair old, decaying infrastructure, support a modern transportation system, and prioritize investments that advance smart policies, such as transportation investments that connect workers to their jobs. MPC supports the policies included in MAP-21, which was approved by a bipartisan vote and will spur economic development and improve quality of life. Check MPC’s blog for updates as this fast-moving legislation advances and policy provisions change.

MAP-21 includes key provisions that will:

  1. Fix-it-first by maintaining our current highways and transit in a state of good repair;
  2. Emphasize national goals and performance measures, such as addressing workers’ combined housing and transportation costs and access to jobs;
  3. Facilitate local control over active transportation funds; and
  4. Provide dedicated transit funding, including the transit pre-tax benefits.

You can help pass this bill! Contact your legislator to urge their support for these key policy provisions in the next federal transportation authorization.

The Bottom line

Working families struggle with the combined costs of housing and transportation. Employers can be a part of the solution, by participating in initiatives such as Commute Options and advocating for improved federal policies and funding to support a balanced national transportation system.


The EAH Advantage is MPC's quarterly e-newsletter about Employer-Assisted Housing.

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MPC Headlines

Expanding housing options and encouraging mobility through the regional voucher pilot

Labelmaster encourages employees to break out the bikes

Commute Options pilot proving need for permanent Transportation Demand Management strategy in Chicago area

Housing development in Chicago's south suburbs showcases burgeoning partnership between private, public sectors

President Clinton addresses energy efficiency and other economic recovery strategies

Rehabbed homes available in the south and near west suburbs – read on!

MPC letter to Sen. Durbin and Rep. Costello re: federal transportation authorization

Senate releases MAP-21 transportation bill proposal

Employers can help employees purchase, rent new homes created by NSP Chicago

EAH in the News

Home Economics: Home Buy Now helps employees' purchases

Employer-Assisted Housing Opportunities Require a Team Effort

Realtor Magazine On Common Ground Winter 2012 (EAH article on page 34)

Research: Housing Counseling Prepares Families for Homeownership

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