Dude, Where’s My Ride?

Employees of insurance company USAA don’t worry about how they are getting to work every day. They can ride in on corporate-subsidized bikes, drive in a corporate-sponsored van along with their colleagues, or take reduced-fare public transportation.

“Employees of all ages can live where they want to live, sustaining lifestyles that appeal to them, without having to shoulder the entire burden of increased commute costs,” said Mark Still, USAA vice president of enterprise support services. “Helping employees manage the cost and environmental impact of their work commute is a differentiator in the battle for top talent.”

And USAA is not alone. Businesses around the world are implementing these corporate-sponsored transportation initiatives to attract a burgeoning workforce of young professionals and boost employee morale while promoting sustainable living practices. It’s a trend that has seen growth in recent years as gas prices continue to rise and employee commute times increase.

Consumer-driven transportation services such as Ridejoy, Lyft and Uber have already helped workers find car pool groups by posting on a public forum or using the GPS on one’s mobile device to locate rides nearby. But companies are now using internal matching services and corporate-wide initiatives to take a traditionally consumer-focused activity and make it a service offered by employers.

What was once an unproductive time period in the car driving to work can become an informal meeting among employees with corporate-matched car pool groups. Employees who share their work commute with their colleagues are naturally building relationships, networking and brainstorming ideas.

Nearly 500 USAA employees use the company’s vanpool program to get to and from work every day. Instituted in 1977, the program sought to attract and retain workers living outside of normal commute ranges while giving them a low-cost, easily accessible transportation alternative, according to Still.

In cities with high-occupancy vehicle lanes, such as Dallas, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, people who car pool can avoid the congestion-induced unpredictability that interferes with work scheduling. These traffic lanes are reserved for cars with three or more passengers during peak travel times on busy highways.

For the average U.S. full-time worker who commutes 25.4 minutes to work each way, the decrease in travel time can reduce employee stress and contribute to higher work productivity, according to the 2013 U.S. Census survey “Mega Commuting in the U.S.”

Maritza Valle, an account manager for the Chicago advertising agency Slack & Co., said a company-wide ride-sharing and matching program would be a benefit to her. She commutes from her home into the city during the work week.

“Helping one another and accommodating where people need to go would definitely help,” Ville said. “If the company pays for it that would be amazing. It would definitely save on gas.”

Ville had to stop using public transportation and start driving to work to cut down on her daily travel time. She said as a new mother, she began to have time-sensitive obligations immediately after her work day ended.

But the switch to driving her car to work comes at a high cost. Private parking in downtown Chicago can cost up to $50 a day and $300 a month. Ville said if there was a better way to balance the time savings with the added cost, she would not hesitate to implement it.

In large U.S. urban areas, the average commuter will spend about $5,840 annually and $16 each day to get to work, according to the U.S. Census. To combat the rising cost of fuel, some companies such as Apple Inc. and Calvert Investments Inc. already offer their employees free public transportation passes for business locations in major cities.

“To be able to attract and retain associates, people have to get to work,” said Kathy Torrence, vice president of corporate sustainability and community partnership at Calvert in Washington D.C.

“If you live in a major metropolitan area, a significant amount of time is spent commuting, and for some people it can be a deal breaker. I am confident that if we didn’t offer this we would see turnover that we wouldn’t want.”

For companies that offer employee parking in urban areas, reducing the number of employee cars can translate to lower parking-garage costs. USAA’s commute programs help save the company an estimated 600 parking spaces per day, eliminating the need for costly infrastructure, according to Still.

For branches and companies located outside of urban areas that are not able to easily incentive work travel beyond costly company cars or mileage reimbursement, car pool technology becomes especially useful for them.

As ride-sharing technology continues to develop, employees are looking beyond traditional ways to tackle their morning commute. With gas prices climbing and daily commute times high, alternative transportation may be one developing trend employees and employers can appreciate.

Jessica DuBois-Maahs is an editorial intern at Talent Management magazine. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.