How to Make Transportation Incentives Work Better on Limited Budgets

Transportation incentives are programs local transportation and public transit authorities create to encourage people to choose alternatives to solo driving. They aim to achieve their objectives by giving commuters specific rewards for using smarter modes of transportation. Common examples include things like:

  • Free public transportation on certain days
  • Access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on highways
  • Rewards programs
  • Loyalty programs
  • Access to preferred parking
  • Free electric vehicle charging

While transportation incentives generally have a beneficial impact, default strategies have some noteworthy limitations. First, they tend to reward people who are already using smart alternatives to solo driving instead of encouraging single-occupancy vehicle operators to change to another mode. They also stagnate by failing to engage participants over the long term while offering financial rewards that do not provide enough motivation. Typically, this results from budgetary limitations.

So, how can you make transportation incentives more appealing without driving up their costs? We have identified four effective strategies:

  • Targeted campaigns: Data-driven insights offer a cost-effective way to determine who is already participating in the preferred behavior and what groups can be targeted for a behavior shift. Don’t go after those who are already using smart alternatives. Instead, save your resources for those who aren’t.
  • Randomness: Build participants’ anticipation for rewards through randomness: use techniques like raffles and draws for major prizes to get people excited about taking part. Randomness also helps fight program stagnation by introducing an element of excitement and uncertainty.
  • Normalization and framing: Create sustained marketing and public awareness campaigns that frame smart alternatives to solo driving as normal, popular, and increasing in popularity.
  • Self-image: People are motivated not only by financial rewards, but also by their identity. For example, cycling enthusiasts can often be convinced to start biking to work fairly easily. Knowing the identity characteristics of your target audience can give program effectiveness a big boost.

Our experts can suggest many other techniques and strategies to help make your transportation incentives that much more appealing while keeping your budget under control. If you would like a free assessment of your existing programs, the entire RideAmigos team is here to help you get started.

Why Cities Are Eliminating Traditional Parking Requirements

In North America, many municipalities have bylaws mandating the inclusion of parking facilities in new residential developments and commercial buildings. These policies, which date back to about the middle of the 20th century, once served important and practical purposes.

First, municipalities feared that a lack of adequate parking would put their businesses at a competitive disadvantage. This concern was especially prevalent in downtown areas of major metropolitan centers, which were economically threatened by the rapid rise of suburban development. Also, neighborhood residents tended to worry that they would have to compete with new neighbors for limited parking. As such, they were reluctant to support new high-density construction projects like apartment buildings and condominiums.

Parking requirements solved these issues, but they also supported over-reliance on privately owned vehicles. Thus, as cities continued to grow, traffic congestion and pollution continued to grow with them. They also contributed to urban sprawl, as the amount of space occupied by surface parking lots adds up quickly when aggregated across an entire metropolitan area.

In 2017, Buffalo became the first major city in the United States to repeal its municipal parking requirements. Many other cities, including San Francisco and Minneapolis, have since followed suit. In examining this trend, we are left with three interesting questions:

Why now?

Reduced reliance on private vehicle ownership is a major driver of the shift away from parking requirements. Cities are becoming acutely aware of the many negative impacts of traffic congestion, and many have responded with policies designed to make alternatives to solo driving more accessible and user-friendly. This is having a positive impact by making people less reliant on cars, which in turn makes parking requirements less feasible than they were in the past. As some observers have pointed out, parking requirements enabled urban addictions to cars, and getting rid of them will help cities break free.

In addition, developers lamented the financial and intangible costs associated with parking requirements, which not only take up precious space but also cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to fulfill. Eliminating these requirements reduces construction costs, which in turn allows more housing to be built. Getting rid of mandated parking also makes it easier for cities to embrace smart, high-density urban growth models by ensuring that prime real estate is not occupied by something so inessential as a parking lot.

How will eliminating parking requirements benefit cities?

The most obvious benefits will come in the form of increased residential density, reduced vehicle usage, and accompanying reductions in pollution and traffic congestion. However, there are also many other advantages:

  • Lower rent rates. Because eliminating parking requirements increases available housing by reducing construction costs, housing becomes more affordable because supply levels rise. According to a 2016 study, parking requirements add an average of $1,700 a year in rental costs. Eliminating them could lead to big savings, especially for lower-income individuals.
  • Developmental diversity. Meeting parking requirements puts limits on the types of buildings that can be constructed, as they necessitate certain architectural and functional characteristics. Getting rid of them allows developers to be more creative. For a few interesting examples, look to downtown Sandpoint, Idaho.
  • Historical building preservation. In Buffalo, and many other cities, parking requirements led to the demolition of numerous historic buildings since they could not be redeveloped while meeting municipal zoning bylaws. Scrapping the requirements will make it easier to preserve and repurpose buildings that were constructed before parking requirement laws existed.

How will the changes impact residents?

The urban living landscape will begin to change as more and more cities rethink their parking requirement bylaws. Demand for smart solutions like carpooling, carsharing, and emerging mobility models like shared bikes and scooters will continue to grow. People will make more regular use of public transit, and cities will become more walkable as growth densities rise and updated building codes facilitate the creation of innovative mixed-use spaces.

Just as municipalities will need to respond by continuing to support the proliferation of alternative modes of transportation, employers will see an increased need to create effective commuter programs. Statistics show that long and difficult commutes frequently lead people to quit their jobs, and businesses will need to offer solutions that support recruitment and employee retention efforts.

RideAmigos can be a big help in these areas. Our innovative, comprehensive software platform provides an exhaustive list of administrative and management tools municipalities and businesses can use to make transportation alternatives more accessible. To learn more, get started with a demo or a free analysis of your existing commuter management strategy.

Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) Takes Commuter Rewards to the Next Level

In December 2018, the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) launched a new commuter rewards program to the public. The CATS program allows commuters to earn points towards valuable rewards by logging smart commutes using approved alternatives to solo driving. CATS configured the system so that 10 round trips logged using approved modes could earn the commuter a $5 reward.

Just 10 days after launching, the CATS commuter rewards program attracted almost 200 new users, marking a 500% increase in registered users over the preceding three-month period. Over those 10 days, participants posted some pretty impressive stats: they logged 1,200 alternative trips totaling 14,900 miles, which saved 3.83 tons of CO2 emissions.

CATS program administrators used a few targeted approaches to generate interest in the program. First, they enticed new users by offering bonus points for joining, putting them within striking distance of a prize right off the bat. They also structured their program to include progressive reward tiers, giving participants added incentives for logging more trips and saving their points for a truly special prize. The resulting engagement and impact speaks for itself!

Learning from Programs that Work

The CATS program is powered by CommuteRewards, part of the RideAmigos cloud-based platform that automates the kinds of proven points programs that have worked for innovative employers like the City of Austin and regional agencies like Commute.org.

Key advantages of the CommuteRewards program:

  • Easy management. By taking advantage of automation, the program eliminated the need to worry about how many rewards to purchase from each vendor at any given time. Instead, they simply define a budget and set point values. Earning and redeeming points is self-service!
  • Tons of choice. Because more than 100 different rewards providers participate, there is no guessing which vendors commuters will like best. Everyone is different, so the program lets them choose their own rewards from a wide variety of retailers and restaurants.
  • Streamlined administration. The CommuteRewards store is configured for easy administration, so you don’t have to keep track of digital codes, leftover gift cards from previous events, or other similar management and reporting headaches.

Commuter rewards are generally a great way to motivate employees to make better and more frequent use of greener, smarter alternatives. A growing number of companies and organizations are turning to this strategy to complement their outreach and commuter challenges and promote sustained behavior change. If you’d like to learn more, we’d be happy to help!

Commuter Engagement vs. Commuter Management

As competition to recruit and retain top talent grows tougher, a growing number of companies and organizations are offering commuter programs as part of their benefits portfolio. Two common phrases you’re likely to encounter include “commuter engagement” and “commuter management.” Many people are under the impression that these two terms are interchangeable, but there are actually important differences between these cornerstone concepts.

What is commuter engagement?

Commuter engagement focuses on programs that make people feel good about adopting alternative modes. In addition to promoting short-term commuter events like Bike-to-Work Month or Rideshare Month, effective engagement strategies also aim to encourage long-term behavior change. When handled well, commuter engagement results in more people choosing to ditch the solo drive in favor of smart alternatives more often.

Essential commuter engagement strategies and concepts include things like:

  • Points programs that allow commuters to collect points they can later redeem for valuable rewards
  • Games, friendly competitions, challenges, and other incentive programs
  • Giving commuters financial incentives for leaving their cars at home, like those provided by parking cash-out programs
  • Targeted marketing campaigns that promote commuter programs to specific groups within your organization

What about commuter management?

Commuter management, on the other hand, simply seeks to provide commuters with the information and resources they need to make better use of smart mobility options. It covers things like:

RideAmigos empowers program leaders to successfully manage both commuter engagement and commuter management. Our unique, industry-leading platform includes the tools and programs that make it easy to drive higher levels of commuter engagement. Administrators also enjoy advanced commuter management features and that make managing and analyzing large and complex programs easy, efficient, and fun. To learn more about our solutions, get started with RideAmigos today!

Five Things Every Employee Transportation Coordinator Should Know

Five thing every ETC needs to know.

Doing these five things will help you optimize the employee commute experience on your company’s campus.

Employee transportation coordinators (ETCs) play a leading role in delivering commuter benefits to the members of a company or organization’s workforce. They also develop, implement, and update commuter programs and policies, and serve as internal and external “point people.” Yet, the role is also relatively new, becoming more widespread over the past few years.

Because the transportation demand management (TDM) landscape is constantly shifting as policies, technology, and best practices continue to evolve and change, ETCs need to stay focused and current to maximize their impact.

These are five of the most important things that every employee transportation coordinator should be doing now:

#1 – Get to know your local and regional commuter programs

Almost every major city or region has a government-affiliated commuter program that aims to promote alternatives to solo driving. These organizations work to empower commuters and lead the push toward smarter, more sustainable transportation choices.

As an ETC, you should be proactive about connecting and cooperating with local and regional commuter programs. Do more than just find out what they offer. Reach out to the people who run them, and get to know them. Attend their events and webinars, join their mailing lists, and stay engaged with what they’re doing.

Remember: an effective ETC is a company or organization’s in-house commuter programs expert. The most successful ETCs have advanced knowledge that reaches beyond their own walls and extends out into the broader community.

#2 – Stay current

On a related note, local and regional commuter management ordinances and programs can be complex, and they often have a lot of moving parts. They also tend to maintain long and detailed lists of requirements that partner companies and organizations are expected to meet. You could be dropped from the partnership for failing to meet even one of those requirements, even accidentally.

To that end, make sure to stay current with the details of all the local and regional commuter programs your organization participates in. If their requirements are changing, or if you’ve implemented organizational changes that may affect your eligibility, reach out to the appropriate administrators for help or advice. This is another incentive for maintaining close ties and open communication with your local program coordinators.

Plugging into organizations like the Association for Commuter Transportation that offer webinars, conferences and other learning opportunities at the local and international level is another great way to stay informed. And be sure to check out CommuteCon.com for information on upcoming virtual conferences for commuter management professionals.

#3 – Share commuter program info with new employees

Newly hired individuals often struggle to find their own way into commuter programs after starting a new job. It’s common for new hires to simply not know that commuter support options are available.

Coordinate with the person or team responsible for new employee orientations. Make sure they are mentioning internal commuter programs during welcome sessions, even if only briefly. Prepare materials that could be included in either printed or digital orientation packets. Then, make sure those materials contain your name, contact information, and a warm message that lets newcomers know you’re available and happy to answer any commute-related questions they might have.

#4 – Keep coworkers engaged and informed

Effective ETCs keep their coworkers engaged with commuter programs and informed about resources, opportunities, and special initiatives.

Here are a few strategies you can use:

  • Create an email list that interested colleagues can join to learn more about programs and updates
  • Generate and distribute posters and flyers about special events like annual commuter challenges
  • Work with your human resources department to include commuter programs in new employee onboarding plans or and regular internal communications
  • Do a lunch-hour presentation series on commuter-related topics, such as “Bike to Work 101” or “Ways to Get to Work Without a Car”
  • Invite a representative from local or regional commuter programs to talk about their initiatives (and include an incentive for participating, like free lunch or a prize draw)

#5 – Take full advantage of available tools

First, look within your company or organization to see what tools and supports they offer. Does your company have its own carpooling network or ride-matching software? Is there a commuter rewards program in place already?

Many dramatic TDM success stories begin with creative and engaging commuter rewards, challenges, and friendly competitions. These are easy to implement and fun for participants, and they can really drive participation rates in the right direction.

If you’re a little short on the tech end of things, you can also reach out to local and regional commuter programs to see if they have any room to add your company as a network on their software. Of course, the entire RideAmigos team is also here to help you take full advantage of the impressive benefits of technologies like our signature commuter management platform.

Finally, remember: you’re not alone! Talk to other ETCs, be part of the RideAmigos Academy if you’re a customer, and don’t forget to check out the Association for Commuter Transportation.

3 Strategies to Engage Commuters

Strategies to Engage Commuters

When asked, many commuters claim to be open to using smart transportation alternatives but, in practice, they are reluctant to try. To overcome this challenge, organizations need to really engage commuters and give them compelling reasons to skip the solo drive.

Over the years, we’ve seen quite a few engagement strategies come and go. If you need to dramatically shift commuter behavior, strategically-designed incentives are the key. But it’s also crucial to provide commuters with convenient tools for accessing your programs and transportation choices.

Here are three strategies that work in the real world, and will actually help you engage commuters and generate higher levels of participation in your commuter programs:

 

Blue Dot 1

Commuter Rewards Programs

Reward programs that offer commuters points for each trip they take are increasingly popular and incredibly effective. Users earn credit for approved trips and can then redeem accumulated points for rewards and prizes. This strategy is most effective when you offer premium incentives, such as gift cards, that appeal to a broad cross-section of interests. Improve and diversify the rewards you offer and watch your participation rates climb.

 

Blue Dot 2

Commuter Challenges and Gamification 

Another proven way to engage commuters is to appeal to their sense of friendly competition – with others, or with themselves. Gamification and challenge programs can kindle a cooperative team spirit, increasing camaraderie among team members. Both general commuter challenges and mode-specific challenges like bike-to-work programs are effective ways to get people to create initial engagement and try a new mode that just might become a habit. Follow up your challenge with an ongoing reward program for maximum long-term impact.

 

Blue Dot 3

Go Mobile 

Giving commuters easy access to smarter commuting choices is vital to the success of your initiative. Mobile commuter engagement apps reach people where they’re already spending a lot of their time: on their smartphones. Use these apps to link commuters with mode options and resources, provide easy ways to discover and participate in rewards and challenges, review progress toward incentives, and more.

 

With cutting-edge, cloud-based management software and ready-to-run commuter programs, RideAmigos is here to be your commuter engagement partner. Our industry-leading platform and mobile apps are packed with tools and features for both administrators and commuters, making it easy to implement reward programs, run challenges, connect commuters, and much more. Get started with RideAmigos today!

Using Point Programs to Sustain Behavior Change

Challenges and special events are great ways to get commuters to try out alternative modes of transportation. However, research demonstrates that many challenge participants simply return to their old habits once the event comes to an end. Thus, while events like National Bike Month are very successful at delivering the initial spark that jolts commuters into trying something new, the problem is that the spark too-often fizzles out once there’s no longer an immediate impetus for continuing. Longer-term incentive programs offer a great compliment to shorter challenges, and point programs are among the most effective ongoing incentive options.

What Are Point Programs?

Point programs are incentives that are put in place on a long-term or permanent basis. They allow commuters to earn points every time they log a commute using an alternative to solo driving. Depending on how the program is designed, all modes may receive the same amount of points, or certain modes may be prioritized, such as carpooling or biking. These points accumulate over time, and can then be redeemed for prizes, benefits, and other perks.

Transportation managers and administrators can use specialized commuter management software to track points, manage prize inventory and benefit distribution, and enable employees to log their commutes quickly and easily in a variety of ways.

Applying Point Programs in Your Company

Point programs build on the principles of year-round incentive programs like “emergency ride home” initiatives. Emergency ride home options provide vouchers for motorized transportation, like taxis or ride-hailing services, which are offered to commuters who are unexpectedly faced with the need to get home quickly. They are designed to solve one of the most pressing problems associated with active commuting: what does someone who walks or bike to work do if the weather turns bad, or if unexpected circumstances require them to get home or go somewhere in a hurry?

However, emerging insights show that while emergency ride home programs are a key component of a smart commuting program, they are not usually enough to encourage sustained behavior change on their own. That’s why pairing them with point programs is so much more effective; commuters have a built-in, long-term incentive for using alternative modes of transportation, and they also have the assurance of a guaranteed ride home if they ever need one.

One increasingly popular way for employees to redeem their points is through a commuter store. In commuter stores, enticing prizes are offered at various point levels, with more points “buying” bigger and better prizes. They give employees something to strive for, and greatly enhance their senses of accomplishment and reward. Common prizes include logo gear from the sponsoring organization (sunglasses, t-shirts, notebooks, etc.), gift cards of various value levels, or raffle tickets towards a chance to win even higher-value items. Our recent support article on choosing commuter store rewards provides a more in-depth look at effective strategies for setting up a commuter store.

Point Program Examples

The City of Austin has made use of an effective point program that uses a slightly different strategy. Austin’s initiative allows city employees to exchange points for the ultimate reward – paid time off. It has proven to be a win-win in one of the fastest-growing cities in America.

The University of Arizona also recently launched a commuter store targeted at both students and university employees, to great success. You can hear first-hand from both the City of Austin and the University of Arizona in the video from last month’s RideAmigos Academy webinar about point programs. On the regional level, Commute.org in San Mateo, CA runs an excellent point program called the STAR store, which they shared about during a presentation at CommuteCon earlier this year.

Do you have an idea for a point program, but you’re not sure how to implement it? Are you having a hard time figuring out what kinds of incentives or rewards to offer for maximum behavior shift? We’re here to help! Get in touch, and we’ll be happy to help you work through your ideas and find dynamic new ways of engaging your commuters.

 

 

Scooter Sharing: Coming Soon to a City Near You

A man posing on electric scooter.

If they’re not already popping up in your city, they could be coming soon. A fast-growing group of app-based electric scooter (e-scooter) fleets are racing to solve short distance urban travel and last mile challenges for commuters. The introduction of e-scooters has been the subject of controversy in some cities. However, as part of a mobility ecosystem, they can be a great complement to the set of transportation options available to employees, students or residents. If you have questions about how scooters might impact your commuters, read on to learn more.

What are dockless electric scooters?

In recent months, companies like Bird, LimeBike, and Lyft have made major investments in scooter sharing platforms. Bird is a Santa Monica, California-based mobility company founded and operated by Travis VanderZanden, a former VP at Uber and COO at Lyft. LimeBike made its name in the bikeshare space before launching scooter shares in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Washington DC. Spin, another bikeshare provider has added a scooter fleet. With other scooter companies popping up, now even ride-hailing companies like Lyft may be getting in on the act.

The scooters being used in these programs aren’t like the one you might have zipped around on as a kid; they’re electric vehicles capable of reaching speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. They allow commuters to roll down the street while enjoying point-to-point service that is being promoted as an ideal solution to the last-mile service dilemma, thanks to their compact size and service model.

How do they work? 

Rather than borrowing a scooter from a dock station, commuters can source a scooter with a geolocation-enabled smartphone app – think Pokemon Go – that will tell the user where the nearest scooter is.  The rider then unlocks the scooter, rides to his or her destination, then parks it, hopefully in a safe spot out of the way of pedestrians. Compared to dockless bikeshare programs, which use a similar model, shared scooters take up much less valuable sidewalk space when not in use.

Most electric scooter payment models see riders pay a flat rate to unlock the scooter, then ride the scooter as long as desired for a low per-minute rate. Because they are geared toward short distance rides, there is often no minimum time allotment, but rental time and distance is only limited by battery life.

At night, service providers – often using contractors – collect the scooters, charge them back up, and replace them in convenient locations for use by commuters the next morning.

As these scooters proliferate in cities, communities and governments are working to adapt. Some have voiced safety concerns for riders and pedestrians. In many cases, scooter companies are cooperating with cities as they work through the policy process. They are also making efforts to ensure riders comply with helmet laws. LimeBike distributes free helmets in communities where they have launched their electric bike and scooter fleets, and Bird will mail a helmet to anyone who signs up and requests one.

At RideAmigos, we know that more transportation options mean greater mobility for commuters. If you’re looking to help connect your commuters to a wider range of mode options, connect with us to learn more about how a commuter management platform can help.

Real Commuter Gamification in the Tour de Redmond

Washington state’s Greater Redmond Transportation Management Association (GRTMA) has been running an annual bike-focused commuter challenge since 2006. The challenge, cleverly called the “Tour de Redmond“, is designed to recognize commuters who regularly bike to work, and to introduce drivers to cycling with the hope of inspiring long-term behavior change. RideAmigos first supported the Tour de Redmond in 2012, when the organizers used our cloud-based platform to manage registration and run the challenge. We can’t think of a better way to start and end a summer workday than biking through beautiful Redmond, Washington. We’re proud to be powering the Tour de Redmond again this year as an official sponsor of the event.

RideAmigos facilitated the program’s successful transition to a true gamification-based commuter engagement strategy. Participants can view their rankings on a live leaderboard and instantly compare themselves and their team to other riders. The commuter challenge features make it easy for riders to track their progress toward the program’s prizes, all while engaging their competitive spirits.

For program organizers, a commuter management platform makes it easy to generate reports, maps, and visualizations. These features give GRTMA officials useful and actionable insights into commuter behaviors during the challenge, allowing them to make ongoing evaluations about the city’s cycling infrastructure while continuing to find new ways to encourage community members to adopt cycling as a long-term commuting solution.

After the first year of working with RideAmigos, GRTMA organizers called it the “smoothest we have ever had in the seven-year history of the competition.” They were also happy to report that using RideAmigos cloud-based platform “saved us as much as a hundred labor hours.”

The commuters in Redmond also posted some impressive results that year:

  • 583 active riders across 64 teams
  • Over 90,000 miles biked
  • Over 54 million calories burned
  • $17,000 of gas money saved
  • 45 tons of greenhouse gas emissions avoided

The Tour de Redmond has continued to build on that success. The 2018 challenge just kicked off at the beginning of June and RideAmigos is proud to be a part of it again this year. We’re looking forward to seeing this year’s results!

If you’d like to learn more about what our platform and programs can do for you, or if you are looking for advice on jump-starting your own commuter challenges, get started here.

Pro Tips for Safer City Cycling

May is National Bike Month, which means you’re likely to see a sharp uptick in the number of cyclists on the road. If you’re planning to take part in the festivities, it’s essential that you brush up on your best practices for city cycling safety. This is especially true if you aren’t an experienced rider, or if you’re planning to hit the road on two wheels for the first time in a while.

First, and most importantly, make sure you have the right safety gear. A sturdy helmet designed specifically for cycling is a must-have. If you’re going to be riding during the pre-dawn or post-dusk hours, you should also wear a brightly colored, reflective safety vest over your clothing. Yellow and orange are highly visible colors, and are recommended.

Cars are legally obligated to pass you at a safe distance, often at least 3 feet, but the unfortunate reality is that drivers don’t always adhere to that requirement. To make things safer for you, follow these tips:

  • Be assertive without putting yourself at risk; don’t ride too close to the curb or parked cars, but don’t “boss your lane” unless it’s necessary for safety reasons
  • Actively scan the road in all directions, and anticipate unfolding traffic situations before they happen
  • Always ride defensively; motorists have tons of steel to protect them in the event of an accident, but you don’t
  • Avoid boxing yourself in, and if you don’t have a clear escape route in a particular road situation, reduce your speed dramatically
  • Be especially cautious around large vehicles – these drivers might have a more difficult time seeing you

City cycling safety experts also stress the importance of pre-planning your route. Take as many streets with dedicated or protected bike lanes as possible, and avoid major traffic corridors with high vehicle volumes to the greatest possible degree. If it’s possible to take a side street instead of a main road, do it.

Finally, always try to make eye contact with the drivers of turning vehicles as you approach them. This is the only way you can be sure that drivers have seen you. Also, to that end, don’t gamble on yellow lights. Turning drivers will be looking to clear the intersection before the light turns red, and you want to avoid entering the intersection after they’ve already committed to completing their turn.

Learn more about how to get the most out of National Bike Month!