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Website provides accessible commute alternatives for employees

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As the central hub of economic and cultural activity for the six-county metropolitan area, it’s no surprise that Sacramento doesn’t meet the region’s air quality goals with the overwhelming amount of traffic on its streets and freeways every day.

In an effort to improve traffic conditions, mobility and air quality in the metropolis, 13 nonprofit local transportation management entities provide commuters with affordable solutions through the Sacramento Region Commuter Club.

The Commuter Club is an online database through which registered employers and commuters living or working within the six-county region can find information for alternative transportation to and from the workplace.

Each transportation management entity is partially funded through grants from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), an association of local governments in the six-county region which spans the counties of El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba including 22 cities. SACOG itself is funded by the Federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality improvement program. For a map of the SACOG area, click here.

“Parking is expensive. We want to reduce the number of cars coming into the downtown area,” said Marilyn Bryant, executive director for the Sacramento Transportation Management Association (TMA).

The club is currently host to 14,134 registered members and 1,111 registered employers which are divided amongst the thirteen nonprofit transportation management entities.

Members are provided with a number of benefits, including access to a commuter database through which they receive webpages of information on commute alternatives, potential carpool partners, bicycle commute help, and public transit schedules. Members may also participate in weekly drawings when they log their commutes in their commuter diaries, but the largest incentive for some is having access to the Emergency Ride Home Program.

“One of the things that prevents people from using alternative or public transit is – what if there’s an emergency?” said Sarah Janus, program coordinator for the North Natomas TMA.

The Emergency Ride Home Program provides commuters with the opportunity to download a voucher from the membership website that pays for a rental car or taxi if they didn’t ride alone to work that day and have an emergency or unscheduled overtime without access to a car or way home from work.

The member logs onto their commuter club account and (if their employer is a member of the transportation management entity) can download a voucher at their work. Once the voucher is used, the car rental or taxi company bills the TMA directly.

Each member is entitled to up to six vouchers per year, which “is normally more than enough than what most folks need,” said A.J. Tendick, public information coordinator for SACOG.

The program is available in large part to members whose employers are registered with the commuter club and pay an annual membership fee to cover the cost of transportation vouchers. The cost of the vouchers is dependent on the number of miles traveled, for example, the cost of a voucher from Sacramento to Davis is around $45.

The member will take a taxi through Yellow Cab Co. of Sacramento for trips up to 20 miles, which includes a 10 percent gratuity. Commuters travelling 20 miles or more may use the voucher for Enterprise RentaCar and is responsible for returning the car within 24 hours.

The only TMA that doesn’t require members to pay a fee for access to the program is the North Natomas TMA.

At a time when the economy makes it difficult for members to pay those fees, it’s important that we find a way to make these programs accessible, Janus said.

The loss of revenue from the exclusion of membership fees is generated through property taxes, she added.

The Commuter Club began through the 50 Corridor TMA in 2001, though the TMA has been functioning since 1993. Currently host to more than 130 members of developers, residents and government, the 50 Corridor TMA seeks to create a community of residents and employers along the Highway 50 corridor, providing traffic updates and construction details.

“Our TMA staff was spending a lot of time driving along Highway 50 trying to keep in touch with our employers and commuters,” said Rebecca Garrison, executive director for the TMA. “It made sense that if a website could tie us all together along the corridor for a month, it could provide a platform for our ever-increasing demand to work with commuters on a day-to-day basis.”

Once the 50 Corridor TMA set up the commuter club, SACOG and the other TMA’s across the region became involved three years later in 2006.

“We all kind of partnered together through SACOG which brought (the commuter club) to us regionally,” Janus said.

The Sacramento TMA has about 60 state departments in membership alone. No commitment is required on part of the employers, except for the annual fee, which is different for each TMA in the partnership, and the benefits are free for anyone interested in being a member.

"It’s a TMA-by-TMA decision," Tendick said.

The fee may depend on the square footage of the property itself, the residential base and employer base, or the number of employees each registered employer is covering through their fees. for example, the Air Quality Management District has about 100 employees in total, and pays a membership fee of about $1000 each year.

“We have one of the highest percentages of members – over 70 percent of our employees use alternative modes of transportation,” said Rachel Dubose, air quality planner and analyst for the Air Quality Management District. Dubose is also the commute coordinator for the AQMD. Each business registered with a TMA has an in-house commute coordinator to help employees find alternative ways to get to work, conduct surveys, attend TMA meetings and distribute new information to employees.

The AQMD also offers its employees an extra incentive of a $5 subsidy each day they get to work without using a car.

“For some people, it’s just a nice ‘thank you’ kind of thing,” she added. “A lot of employees take advantage of the program, and they save a lot of money in the long run.”

Anyone can register to be a member of the commuter club, and which TMA they associate with depends on their residence and place of work.

“I don’t know if it’s more important now or earlier on,” Garrison said. “It has always been an efficient way to deliver services and information to a large geographical area.”

“Traffic congestion and air quality has improved in downtown because less people have been driving to work,” Bryant said.

Both Garrison and Bryant said they will be revamping their websites soon. A new prize component will be added for the 50 Corridor TMA.

To become a member of the commuter club, one must provide information including home address, worksite and employer, main commute corridor and mode of transportation as well as total mileage in a day’s commute. The database then works to find matches for possible commute alternatives including vanpool/carpool and other cycling or public transit options.

“It’s amazing what people can do with all of the information at their fingertips,” Janus said.

We’re in the air district, and we’re tasked with keeping up the air quality – the best way is to reduce the vehicle miles traveled, Dubose added.

For more information on the Commuter Club and which transportation management association serves your area, click here.

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