Soaring gas prices earlier this year led many employees to seriously consider bailing out of their long commutes and find jobs closer to home. While gas prices have moderated (at least for now), many employees still face long, expensive, time-wasting trips to work.
Government stats show that Americans drove 2.7 trillion miles in 2004, almost triple the miles driven in 1970.
To ease employees' pain, employers are increasingly turning to creative commuter benefits that help save employees money, time and hassle. Those efforts are reflected in recruiting and retention and can reap good will from the public. Plus, they reduce payroll and income taxes because commuter benefits are pretax items.
3 case studies
Companies such as Geico, Eddie Bauer and Georgia Power report that they have more productive, less frustrated employees since they began tempting employees to car pool and ride their bikes to work.
1. Geico: Vans, car-pool matching ... and showers
The Maryland-based insurance firm began its commuter program because it didn't have enough parking spaces at its headquarters. Today, the 20-year-old program remains a staple at the company, which employs 1,500 workers at its headquarters and 8,500 nationwide.
Because traffic in the Washington, D.C., area can be so heavy, Geico uses the program as a selling point in recruiting. The company offers its headquarters employees:
- Discounts of up to half price on public transportation.
- Six company vans that employees can ride to work for 5.1 cents a mile.
- Car-pool matchmaking service.
- Free, close-in parking for car poolers.
- Bicycle racks.
- Showers for cyclists and walkers.
- A guaranteed ride-home program for car poolers and van poolers who need to get home unexpectedly during the day.
2. Eddie Bauer: On-site amenities limit errands
Besides rewarding car poolers with access to prime parking, the Redmond, Wash., clothing company offers a slew of on-site amenities, from laundry pickup to photo processing to a gym and restaurant.
Those on-site perks allow employees to run errands on campus rather than jumping in their cars during lunch hours or stopping on their way to or from work.
Eddie Bauer pays about $2,000 a month to subsidize van poolers.
3. Georgia Power: Free ride home for late-working car poolers
Georgia Power commuters who want to drive in together can use a company van—and company-paid fuel—so riders face no out-of-pocket costs.
The firm springs for one-day rental cars for headquarters employees who miss a scheduled ride home because they have to work late.
About 40 percent of Georgia Power's 5,500 Atlanta-based employees use the Smart Ride Program, and 1,100 have compressed schedules or telework, so they commute less often.
"The more options, the more apt they are to participate," says Jane Franklin, a Georgia Power special projects coordinator, who notes that one employee's blood pressure dropped once he joined the van pool.
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