Photo by Kymberly Janisch, via Flickr
Traffic jams. Wear-and-tear. Road rage. Unpredictable travel times. Climbing gas prices. Stress.
Sound familiar? If so, it’s a safe bet you are among 71 percent of Chicago-area workers who drive alone to work each day. A new pilot program in metropolitan Chicago—led by the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) in partnership with the Civic Consulting Alliance, and inspired by the Chicago Climate Action Plan—is asking and answering the question: What would it take to get you to trade “all this” for a cheaper, saner, and more energy-efficient commute?
Through the new Commute Options pilot program, 10 to 15 regional employers will offer one or more incentives to persuade their employees to try a new commute. MPC will work one-on-one with each company to assess its unique situation, employee preferences, and goals. Then, MPC and the company will work together to tailor a plan designed to encourage as many employees as possible to get out of their cars and into a better ride to work.
Employers will be able to select from a range of existing and new incentives to help workers live near work or transit, or ride transit, bikes or even walk to work. These include:
- RTA/CTA Transit Benefit Fare Program
- Bike sharing
- Pace vanpool
- Car sharing
- Employer-assisted housing (EAH), including new new energy retrofit incentives for existing employee homeowners, thanks to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, to supplement incentives available through the Illinois Housing Development Authority for new employee homebuyers. Limited EAH incentives are also available for renters.
- Emergency Ride Home programs
From 2011 to 2012, MPC will link employers with a range of implementation partners, such as those listed under "Community Partners" below, and help administer and track each employer’s program. After the pilot phase, in continued partnership with the Civic Consulting Alliance, MPC will conduct quantitative and qualitative analysis to evaluate the success of each program. This data—which will measure reduced commute times and greenhouse gas emissions, fuel savings, employee retention rates, and more—will allow MPC and the Civic Consulting Alliance to refine the program and available incentives in 2012.
Commute Options is a natural extension of MPC’s decade-long success helping local employers set up and administer EAH programs. Through EAH, employers help their employees become homeowners and live closer to work by providing forgivable loans for downpayment and closing cost assistance. More than 75 employers across the region offer EAH programs, including MPC, Chicago Public Schools, Charter One Bank, Robinson Engineering, RUSH University Medical Center, Medela, Harris Bank, System Sensor, St. James Hospitals and Health Centers, and many others.
Commute Options is another way MPC is helping to advance the Chicago Climate Action Plan. An overarching goal of both the plan and the program is to curb transportation emissions by helping to remove 19,000 Chicagoland cars from the road. As gas prices climb, and research and development to perfect alternative fuel sources continues in the U.S. and across the globe, employers can play an integral role in achieving regional energy efficiency and sustainability goals. In exchange for helping their employees and the environment, employers participating in Commute Options programs report enhanced employee satisfaction, improved retention, and better success meeting internal sustainability objectives.
Other partners in the Commute Options program include:
- Local government: City of Chicago, Chicago Climate Action Plan, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, CMAP
- Transit authorities: Pace Suburban Bus, Metra, Regional Transportation Authority, Chicago Transit Authority
- Community partners: Active Transportation Alliance, Center for Neighborhood Technology, Clean Air Counts, Civic Consulting Alliance, REACH Counselors, MPC, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce
Tim Grzesiakowski joined MPC this month as the project manager of Commute Options. Since 2000, Grzesiakowski was the commuter transportation manager for Hewitt (now Aon Hewitt), based at the company’s Lincolnshire headquarters. He managed commute options programs for all North American locations and had great success encouraging employees to swap their car commutes for more energy-efficient options—all while increasing the company’s employee retention and diversity rates. Grzesiakowski also has served as marketing director for Metropolitan Chicago Information Center, and manager of marketing and development for Pace Suburban Bus. He received his bachelor’s degree in commerce from DePaul University and a master’s degree in public administration from Pepperdine University.
Grzesiakowski will work closely with MPC Project Manager Lillie Sellers, spearheading outreach to employers on both EAH and Commute Options. Sellers has managed MPC’s suburban EAH program since 2006, and will now manage regionwide implementation efforts.