Reflecting on 2020 & Looking Ahead

At RideAmigos we are on a mission to change the way the world commutes for good by empowering everyone to make smarter transportation choices; and we partner with some of the most innovative employers and government agencies to do it. 

Over the years, agencies and employers have used RideAmigos to help commuters choose an alternative to driving alone over 25 million times and eliminated 237 million pounds of CO2.

Looking back on the past year, we are so proud of how our partners each rose to meet the challenges brought by the pandemic, economic crisis, and continued reckoning with access and inequities in our mobility ecosystem.  

Setting New Precedents

Overall in 2020, commuters used RideAmigos to report working remotely more than a million times in connection with employer or regional programs. They also logged just as many active trips, such as biking or walking, either to work or just to get outside. 

Before the pandemic set in, agencies and employers using RideAmigos were replacing over half a million SOV trips per month in 2020 with active trips, remote work or shared modes. 

Also in 2020 RideAmigos was part of a team that received an Association for Commuter Transportation Excellence in Research Award. The award recognized work with the City of Durham and Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight to bring a personalized commute plan pilot to scale and through this helped organizations achieve a mode shift of up to 10%.

Taking Action in a Crisis

When the COVID-19 crisis began, agencies and employers used RideAmigos to communicate safe commuting guidelines. They also responded to changing circumstances with rapid adjustments to incentive programs.

As the pandemic continued our clients began to reimagine commuter engagement strategies. This included: 

  • Launching programs to engage a hybrid workforce of remote and essential onsite employees.
  • Creating opportunities for community members who may have been unemployed or furloughed to stay engaged and learn about alternatives to driving alone.
  • Challenging employees and the public to build new habits by biking-to-anywhere 

2020 was a difficult year for the world and our community of transportation demand management (TDM) professionals was no exception. But we also came together in exciting ways. CommuteCon, always a virtual event, saw over 1,500 people join in. The April 2020 event was timed perfectly, providing a forum to discuss the unprecedented challenges and unique opportunities brought about by the pandemic. 

Looking Ahead 

We are continuing to work with our amazing customers as they reimagine the future with a reimagined commute experience for essential workers, future returns to the office, or hybrid work arrangements with smart parking management, subsidies and incentives, and other proven commuter behavior change programs.

We are continuously reinvesting in our products, and working to bring the latest insights from research into technology to our clients to create a better more sustainable commute experience. 

2021 promises to be a year of transformational and regenerative change. We’re looking forward to working together to harness this moment to make an even greater positive impact on our communities and the planet. If you are interested in learning more about how commuter engagement can support your evolving workplace, contact us to get started.

UBIT Taxes on Transportation Fringe Benefits Have Been Repealed. Here’s What it Means for Your Business.

In 2018, the federal government made some changes to its Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT) policies. The changes required businesses to pay taxes on certain transportation fringe benefits offered to employees.

The UBIT changes were not popular, and they forced millions of businesses to remit payments on employee perks related to parking and public transportation benefits. American businesses were significantly impacted, and the new UBIT policies had negative effects on commuter programs.

Thanks in part to lobbyist advocacy, the government recently agreed to repeal its UBIT taxes on transportation fringe benefits. Here’s how the changes break down, and how they might affect you.

What did the UBIT taxes on transportation fringe benefits cover?

The 2018 changes that introduced UBIT taxes on transportation fringe benefits required companies to pay taxes on benefits related to parking and public transit. For example, companies that covered parking costs or offered free transit passes to commuters had to pay taxes on those expenditures, which were previously tax-free.

As a result, many companies saw their UBIT-related tax bills rise by as much as 21%.

What has changed?

In December 2019, the federal government repealed its UBIT taxes on transportation fringe benefits in response to pressure from businesses and lobby groups. The taxes were very unpopular and were negatively impacting employers’ commuter policies.

How are businesses affected by the changes?

The tax code change is retroactive to 2018, meaning that the companies that paid them qualify for refunds if they are exempt from these taxes under the new rules. If your company paid these taxes and is now exempt from them, be sure to notify your taxation, finance, and legal departments as you are entitled to have your tax payments on transportation fringe benefits returned to you.

About us

RideAmigos is a leading provider of powerful TDM software solutions and organizational commuter strategies. To learn more about how we help businesses of all sizes make life easier for commuters, get started today.

Launching New Commuter Programs: Why Timing Matters

Behavioral science is broadening TDM professionals’ understanding of why certain strategies work. One of the most interesting presentations from CommuteCon 2020 examined new commuter programs through the lens of behavioral science, yielding interesting findings you’ll want to know about as you ramp up to launch yours. If you missed Jessica Roberts of Alta Planning at CommuteCon, check out the recording.

Here are a few behavioral concepts you should consider applying to your programs:

The “fresh start effect”

People tend to take strong action in pursuit of a new goal in response to an outside prompt or time-based landmark. Researchers call this the “fresh start effect,” and examples include:

  • New Year’s resolutions
  • Anniversaries of events
  • “I’ll start next month”
  • “I’ll start on Monday”
  • “I’ll start after my birthday”

These temporal markers can also include significant changes in a person’s life: moving to a new city, changing homes, or changing jobs mark excellent examples.

Researchers note that people often commit to new behaviors with more energy and focus when a “fresh start” event prompts them to do so.

Timing matters when it comes to new commuter programs

This fascinating behavioral phenomenon highlights strategic benefits for new commuter programs. If you can launch yours to take advantage of a “fresh start effect,” you can significantly boost its likelihood of success. Position your programs to take effect after the Christmas holidays, when the month turns over, or when the season changes. Emphasize the change and appeal to personal reasons commuters might have for wanting to make a coincidental change themselves.

As an important side note: the “fresh start” doesn’t have to be organic. You can create it yourself. One way TDM professionals do this is through targeted, individualized outreach programs.

For example, say you’ve launched a bike challenge and scores of your team members are cycling to work for the first time. If one of your commuters had a positive first experience, you can make that experience the “fresh start.” Reach out with an incentive-based offer that invites the commuter to commit to a long-term change. The likelihood that your invitation gets accepted will be much higher.

You can implement programs based on principles of behavioral science like these with the RideAmigos commuter management platform. For more ideas on how to do this at scale, check out this short talk from our Director of Innovation, Corey Tucker. The RideAmigos team is happy to offer further insights, tips, and strategies for making your new commuter programs successful. Get started today!

 

Detecting Bias in TDM Research

The transportation demand management sphere is increasingly being influenced by quantitative analysis, and scientific research. These approaches have huge potential to make positive impacts. However, to ensure that policies based on data and TDM research are equitable, professionals need to be aware of their own potential biases and understand how they can impact outcomes.

Bias in TDM research: what is it?

With science playing an ever-growing role in the TDM space, inherent biases in scientific models stand to have an increasing impact on research outcomes. As leading experts have pointed out, prevailing approaches to scientific inquiry and the scientific method itself are grounded in society’s dominant, traditional sociopolitical systems.

Thinkers and theorists preoccupied with questions of inclusion and equality have pointed out the shortcomings and problems with these systems. They tend to be grounded in perspectives that favor the majority order rather than prioritizing the needs and viewpoints of minority communities. As a result, policies based on TDM research can become shaded by inherent viewpoint biases that do not account for equitable social justice.

How to overcome bias in TDM research

Accounting for and correcting biases in TDM research requires active effort on the part of the scientists, professionals, and policymakers who interpret data to make decisions. Here are some questions to ask when looking at data-based information that’s going to inform policy:

  • Does that data reflect inherent social biases? What biases are accounted for, and what biases are not?
  • Who collected the data? What biases might they have?
  • Who interpreted the data? What biases might they have?
  • Does the data represent the needs, viewpoints, and experiences of all members of the population group to which it applies?

Most of all, it’s critically important to supplement data-based analysis with actual field research. It’s critically important for policymakers to have a clear, accurate understanding of what’s really happening “on the ground” in the location in question. In many cases, the raw numbers may not reflect the real, lived experiences of the people the future policies will affect.

These shortcomings can interfere with equitable access to transportation systems. This is particularly true in a time of ongoing gentrification, as the traditional demographics of cities and neighborhoods continue to experience rapid, dramatic changes.

If you’d like to learn more, get started with RideAmigos today.

“Replacing” Your Commute During the COVID Pandemic

Sure, commuting takes up a lot of time, and it can be stressful. But even so, many people find themselves missing the comfort of routine now that they’ve been relieved of their daily commutes in favor of teleworking.

Here are some creative and interesting rituals newly minted telecommuters are using to stay sane, connected, and productive in the face of this abrupt change:

Video coffee dates

When we started asking around the office, one of our team members said, “I’ve started having some morning video coffee dates with friends, providing a ritual and giving some personal interaction as I start my day.” Sounds like a great way to stay connected!

Vary your surroundings

One respondent offered, “I’ve been switching rooms every other day with my partner to change things up.” Another noted, “Going to a different physical space [to work] is a super helpful practice.”

Different scenery adds variation, which can be psychologically important to people who aren’t used to sameness and monotony.

Meditation

This was an interesting response: “I replaced commuting with meditating in the back yard for a few minutes to get started in the morning. Then, after work, I do a workout outside to tell my body ‘I’m done.'” This bookends the day with mental and physical breaks.

Get a pet

One emphatic respondent insisted: “If you don’t already have one, get a furry friend because they give you a great excuse to take five or ten minutes to give them the attention they want (and deserve!). Having something else that needs you is a great way to break up the day.”

Another pet owner added: “My dogs are very good at telling time, and every day they know when it’s dinnertime and that I should stop working and feed them. They’re very persistent, and help keep me accountable to healthy scheduling.”

Hop on a bike

“I’ve replaced bike commuting with post-work riding,” said one new telecommuter. “I usually pick a part of town to ride to and explore it.”

Another cycling enthusiast added: “I love exploring neighborhoods and nearby areas I had no idea existed. It’s become a vital way to separate myself from work and connect to the world around me in a way I never expected.”

All that, and it’s fantastic exercise!

What’s your work from home ritual?

What are you doing to create a new routine, break up your work day, and separate work time and personal time? We want to know! Tell us in the comments.

Telecommuting During COVID-19: Technology Solutions for WFH Productivity

The novel coronavirus pandemic has forced sudden, major changes to the way companies do business. Many organizations have switched to mass telecommuting during COVID-19 in a bid to stay productive, creating a new set of challenges. A large number of companies are scrambling to figure out how to maintain productivity in the new working environment, so we’ve put together a list of tools that can help. This is not comprehensive but a good place to start!

Telecommuting during COVID-19: Meeting face-to-face

Hopefully we’re all getting in on the occasional virtual watercooler chat with our teams via Zoom. While it is getting a lot of press these days, and Microsoft’s Teams also enjoys a dominant position in the virtual meeting space, they are certainly not the only game in town when it comes to voice-based productivity tools. Services like Google Meet, Blue Jeans and GoToMeeting also deliver great face-to-face functionality, making them excellent solutions for productivity, team bonding and remote collaboration.

Instant messaging tools with group chat features are a strong alternative, and may be preferable in some cases. Text-based applications make it just as easy to get quick answers to critical questions as teams work remotely. Software development groups with contributors scattered across the globe are used to working this way, and they have excellent insights and recommendations.

Screen sharing

Screen-sharing apps offer an easy and effective solutions when employees need troubleshooting assistance, or when team members need to simultaneously view slide decks, documents, presentations, and the like. Computer World magazine recently featured its top picks for 15 easy-to-use screen sharing apps for businesses. Many of the reviewed solutions on this list support free trials or free-to-use versions with limited features.

Communication and social networking tools

Some enterprise productivity solutions take a page out of the social media playbook, creating online spaces where connected team members can share updates, files, links, and information in a news feed-style interface. These enterprise social networking platforms make making telecommuting during COVID-19 a more seamless experience.

Slack has always been a great tool for remote teams. While it also makes the chat platform list, its wide variety of enterprise integrations it makes a versatile platform for all kinds of collaboration and connection when large portions of the workforce are shifting to work from home.

For a more traditional social media platform, Microsoft’s Yammer has carved out a unique niche. If you need this kind of functionality, it’s well worth a look.

Team management and feedback

One of the hardest things about remote work is the distance between managers and direct reports. With the dramatic shift to working from home at scale, many experts have taken note of the unique challenges this can pose and there is lots of good advice out there for how to rethink remote management – like this article from the Harvard Business Review.

15Five and other similar tools can help facilitate productive one-on-ones. And, of course, recognition tools like bonus.ly can allow anyone in an organization to amplify praise for a colleague’s hard work through micro-bonuses and public announcements.

Online document sharing

Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, Box and many other free and open-access alternatives have ushered in a new area of remote collaboration. These solutions allow team members to create, share, edit, and collaborate on documents in real time, using a system built around access permissions to ensure only authorized individuals are able to edit files. Contributors can add comments to facilitate discussions and revisions, and everything is cloud-based so secure storage is never an issue.

Virtual office software

People teams in need of comprehensive, fully functional solutions for telecommuting during COVID-19 can also consider virtual office software. These complete platforms aim to recreate the office experience digitally, with functions that support:

  • Face-to-face communications
  • Collaboration on documents and projects
  • Time management, time tracking, and attendance tools

Sococo is a trailblazer in the virtual office software space. You can also explore these free alternatives if you’re only planning to support temporary telecommuting during COVID-19.

RideAmigos is here to help

The unprecedented crisis surrounding the outbreak of the novel coronavirus has created unexpected challenges for many businesses, and the RideAmigos team is here to offer all the help we can. Through our blog, you can learn more about telecommuting and access further resources, and our partners can also help in valuable ways. Check out:

If you’re a RideAmigos customer or partner, we would also like to take this opportunity to share details of our COVID-19 response. Our entire team remains at your disposal if you need any further assistance or insights on how to manage telecommuting during COVID-19 as we all work together to get through this challenging time. Please contact us if we can assist you in any way.

Make Commuter Engagement Your Business

The way YOUR people get to work is YOUR business. More and more senior executives are realizing the truth: if you have employees, the commute is an important business concern. The old ways of thinking about parking facilities, long, stressful commutes, and their impact on corporate sustainability are costing employers money and valuable employees.

Let’s start with the issue of employee parking. Whether the employer owns facilities or is providing spaces for employees in some other way, employee parking is not free. A 2012 report found the average cost across twelve U.S. cities to build a single above ground parking space to be $24,000. And, this does not account for the time wasted by employees searching for a good spot, tax liability for parking as a benefit, or the opportunity cost of using valuable land to build more and more parking to meet rising demand. Employers can’t afford to chalk this up to business as usual.

Then there’s employee retention. A 2018 survey by global human resource consulting firm, Robert Half found that more than one in five workers has left a job because of a bad commute and the problem is worsening in some of the country’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas. This is not just disruptive — when considering a variety of factors associated with losing and replacing an employee, this can cost businesses between 50-200% of the person’s salary depending on his or her role. Particularly in this labor market, employers have good reason to start paying attention to how the commute might be affecting morale, engagement and attrition.

Last but not least, corporate sustainability strategies that don’t include commuter engagement are missing a huge opportunity. Nearly 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States come from transportation, including commuting. Whether a business identifies being green is a key part of its brand or it simply has to meet the requirements of a development agreement or local regulations, there are real costs to missing the mark. On the other hand, making commuters part of the solution has tangible benefits to the corporate and employer brand, employee engagement, and community relations. Investors and shareholders care about sustainability and so does top talent.

Operations, human resources and corporate sustainability leaders each are already working to address these challenges. It’s time to break down the silos dividing parking management, human capital management and corporate sustainability. At the center of all of these mandates is a smart commuter engagement strategy. Forward-thinking employers that implement effective commuter engagement relieve pressure on facilities, increase employee engagement and retention, and boost corporate sustainability — differentiating themselves from the competition as an employer of choice for top talent.

Provide Access to Options and Information

The foundation of most successful commuter programs is understanding your employees — where do they live, what are their transportation options, and what are their commute preferences.

As with any other business decision, knowing the details helps employers better understand the problem and the full range of potential solutions. Employers that are serious about helping commuters make better choices begin by collecting data about how their employees get to work and what other options may be available to them.

In many cases, providing transit passes, carpool and vanpool programs, cyclist-friendly facilities, and even subsidizing high-occupancy shuttles are much more cost-effective solutions and provide better value to employees. And, when offered the choice, certain employees will prefer these options to sitting in traffic alone and searching for spaces in sprawling parking lots or level after level of an indoor garage.

Inspire Them to Try Something New

What if employees are not quick to adopt alternatives to driving alone? Offering an incentive to try something new is a great way to break through the natural bias toward sticking with familiar habits. Real monetary rewards work, and bigger incentives are more effective. But combining incentives with other strategies can make each dollar go further.

Paid time off is a highly valued employee benefit. The City of Austin — which has been listed among the Forbes Top Employers and Best Workplaces for Commuters — was able to reduce 1.33 Million employee drive alone trips in six months with an administrative leave incentive. This kind of incentive is a great option for organizations that want to incentivize employees with a meaningful benefit that doesn’t increase taxable income.

Of course, it is not helpful to simply pay someone to do something for a period of time if they’ll stop once the incentive is gone. Smartly designed incentives give commuters time to form new habits. Commute.org in San Mateo County, California had great success — increasing carpool trips fourfold — by offering a repeatable incentive, coupled with its ongoing rewards program.

Make Costs (and Benefits) More Personal

An even more effective strategy to change the way employees think about their commute is to actually show them the money and let them decide how to spend it. Employers can do this either by letting commuters keep the cost of their daily or monthly parking if they opt not to use it, or granting them the funds and deducting the cost of parking from their balance if they choose to use it.

These parking cash-out programs leverage the same feelings associated with paying for parking while still supporting it as an employee benefit. Daily cash-out options give employees flexibility to make daily decisions about how to get to work, while a monthly or quarterly cash-out structure plays to the concept of loss aversion by putting money in employees hands and letting them choose how to spend it. This results in employees thinking much differently about the value of parking versus other ways they could spend the money.

The most flexible programs — ones that offer daily and long-term options — are especially effective because they appeal to a broader range of employees. Sonos in Santa Barbara, California did just that, and reduced parking demand by 25%.

Engage Employees and Reinforce Smart Choices

Even parking cash-out and really attractive incentives may miss important keys to inspiring employees to adopt and maintain smarter commute habits. There are two major factors that employer commuter programs should not overlook: ongoing engagement and intrinsic motivation.

While a big incentive may motivate them to try something new, it is still important to give employees a reason to continue the habit. Allowing them to earn points toward smaller rewards over time, or even chances at larger ones, will ensure that they are motivated to make smart choices whenever possible.

Another way to continue driving participation is to challenge employees periodically. Challenges and gamification are proven to catalyze behavior change and there is evidence that, when done right they can create lasting change. Encouraging team participation increases the social aspect of a challenge — building community and helping employees make lasting connections — while allowing them to earn and track personal achievements and milestones leverages their own internal drive to succeed.

Finally, and often overlooked, is the good feeling employees get when they understand the positive impact of their smart commute choices. When you show them their unique carbon footprint reduction, health benefits and savings versus driving alone, you help make the commute a source of pride rather than a burden. In the big picture, showing employees that they are contributing not only to their own health and well-being but to the corporate sustainability mission and a better planet can increase engagement and productivity.

Just as transportation options, employee preferences and business objectives vary widely, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Identifying the right mix of programs for your workforce is the first step, and it can change over time and across the geographies in which you operate.

Running programs like these successfully doesn’t have to be daunting. At RideAmigos we see them work for hundreds of employers across the country – made possible when committed transportation heroes at all levels of an organization have the right tools and partners. To get started, consider reaching out to your local transportation management association (TMA) or regional commuter program, sign up for our Commuter Tips newsletter and, when you’re ready, contact us about the value of a future-proof hub for all of your commuter mobility programs.

What Is a Smart Commute?

The term “smart commute” is starting to displace the familiar “alternative commute” among in-the-know Transportation Demand Management (TDM) pros. As some leaders point out, the word “alternative” implies that solo driving is and should be the default mode. Instead, characterizing a particular mode as “smart” removes this distinction and uses language that reflects TDM’s true values and objectives.

Moreover, a growing number of regional and organizational commuter programs are applying “smart commute” as a term to define the modes of transportation that qualify for rewards or make a positive impact on sustainability goals. How are these industry leaders thinking about what constitutes a smart commute? Let’s examine some common answers.

Smart commutes use shared instead of individual modes

One defining aspect of a smart commute is that it emphasizes the intelligent use of shared trips over individual transportation. Thus, it embraces modes like:

  • Carpooling
  • Public transportation like busses and trains
  • Vanpooling
  • Rented micro transit solutions like bikeshares and scooters to bridge that “first mile/last mile”

Anything that gets solo commuters out of cars and into a greener, more efficient shared trip counts as “smart” in our books.

Active commuting is smart commuting

People who walk or bike to work are smart (and happy) commuters. These modes have little if any environmental impact, and they also support physical and mental health and wellness.

You can make your workplace friendlier to active commuters by providing facilities like showers, lockers, and secure bike parking areas.

The smartest commute may be one that doesn’t happen at all

A growing number of employers offer remote teleworking as an alternative to coming into a physical workplace. Many TDM advocates argue that telecommuting is often an optimal choice, as it doesn’t require a commute at all. Employees also value the added focus and work-life balance telecommuting offers. Depending on your business, it can be a great way to boost morale and help your business attract and retain higher-quality employees.

If you’re looking for new and innovative ways to encourage your people teams to embrace the “smart commute” mentality, we can help. Get started today with a free analysis of your existing commuter programs and a personalized demonstration of our leading commuter engagement platform.

3 Effective Ways to Solve Company Parking Issues

Company parking issues affect both the management and employee sides of a business, presenting significant challenges for both. Managing employee parking needs is costly, as companies must either own or rent enough space to cover the daily needs of their commuters. In some cases, they must even go to the expense of building new parking structures.

For employees, competition for limited space creates unsavory situations that can have a long list of negative impacts in the workplace.

Let’s examine the root cause of most company parking issues, then explore effective methods of solving them.

Common Parking Problems

Demand for limited parking is the single most common problem companies face. Traditional solutions include constructing new parking structures and renting more parking spots. However, these aren’t feasible from a cost-benefit standpoint, especially in places like the Bay Area where new parking lots cost about $38,000 per space and rented spots command upwards of $500 per month. Each. Yikes.

Three Proven Solutions to Company Parking Issues

In our experience, the best and most effective solutions to company parking issues stem from a simple concept: behavior change. This term describes a workplace culture in which people swap out old habits that contribute to problems for new ones that foster solutions.

Stimulating behavior change on an organizational level is something of an art form, but no matter how you approach it, the key to success is to offer transportation incentives.

Try these three strategies:

  • Encourage carpooling. Promote the cost savings and social benefits of sharing rides. Participants reduce fuel expenses and vehicle maintenance costs, all while strengthening their personal and professional networks. Among other benefits, rideshare-based employee commuting is also known to reduce stress and improve job satisfaction.
  • Offer public transportation benefits. People teams don’t need parking when they use public transportation to get to work. Employers can help employees purchase transit passes with pre-tax dollars or even offer free or subsidized transit passes. On a monthly basis, they’re much cheaper than maintaining or renting parking spots, and they also reduce traffic congestion while inspiring team members to carry over their positive new travel habits beyond their daily commutes.
  • Make it a game. Commuter challenges, points programs, and other gamification strategies engage team members and encourage them to think about employee transportation in different, healthier ways.

These tools are proven antidotes to company parking issues, and they have wider community benefits like reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. The RideAmigos platform supports these any many other solutions to parking constraints, so if you’d like to learn more, we invite you to get started today.