Katy freeway (I-10) in Houston, Tx

So, How’s the Commute?

Why do we pick one job opportunity over another? That is if you are lucky enough to have more than one offer at a particular time. What are the priorities in that decision-making process? Are these priorities changing as more millennials enter the workforce?

Traditionally, a candidate would select the job that pays the most money. Yes! “show me the money.” You want a job that fits your skills and ambitions, and one that provides more opportunity for advancement. It is a common perception that nothing else really played into the decision.

Well, as the transportation geek that I am, I propose there is much more to it today than money. I am not arguing money is no longer important, especially in areas like the DC Metro where I live, but other factors are becoming increasingly important. And, again, in the DC Metro area which has some of the worst traffic congestion in the county, the commute is a prime factor in that decision.

 

Traffic

The common scenario at one time was you take the high paying job in the city, but you buy a house far out in the suburbs where housing is much cheaper. As properties become more expensive, the further out you live, you put up with a commute that may require two to three hours per day sitting in your Single Occupied Vehicle (SOV). You just have to deal with it. Well, that may be becoming less the case with the current work force.

Several years ago I was out of work and landed a position on temporary assignment. A few months later, the company offered me a permanent position but I was also offered a second job from another employer, a local government. I actually drew up a matrix to compare pros and cons for each of the jobs. The length of the commute was a key factor. Unfortunately, both jobs were at locations over 20 miles from my home, but one job required a 20 minute shorter commute than the current job I had. I took the new job.

 

drawing of van

But I am not referring to just the length or hassle of the commute. Candidates consider other commuting options that would be available with this new company. What other commuting options would I be referring to? Well does the company have access and/or opportunity for an employee to use:

  1. Transit (light rail, commuter rail, or bus)
  2. Ridesharing ( carpools or vanpools)
  3. Biking or Walking to Work
  4. Telework
  5. Flexible Work Hours

And there are also the incentives (financial or other) a company can provide to help employees consider other commuter options? These may include:

  1. Pre-tax subsidies
  2. Discounted passes
  3. Incentives for non-parking
  4. Shuttle access
  5. Guaranteed Ride Home
  6. Employer Assisted living

I recently read a tweet from Michelle “Shelly” Parker who manages the regional GoTriangle TDM program for the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area.

She posted her article from a local business publication in which she notes that with low unemployment in many areas across the country, companies are looking at ways, some may be viewed as extreme, in attracting talent for their open positions. While many companies are limited in what they can provide, a company that provides commuter benefits and a strong commuter options program can go a long way in recruiting much needed talent.

It is clear that commuting considerations should not be dismissed as something just for “green conscious” companies or companies in large metropolitan areas. Ms. Parker referenced recent research that suggested employees having left their job due to commuting challenges or are beginning to look to their employers to help them address their commuting challenges. A number of companies in the Research Triangle Area offer financial support to cover employee commuting costs, as many do here in the Washington metro area, so it seems like a no-brainer that companies should consider incorporating commuting benefits as part of its bottom line. If they don’t, they could be left behind in attracting talent.

commuteSo what can a company do? The first step is the company should survey its employees. Find out what their needs are. It’s also good if employers use free TDM consulting services to identify commuter options specific to their company location, employee schedules and travel options. These consultants use carpool, mass transit, biking, walking and telework best practices to develop commuting-assistance programs for businesses and provide guidance for selecting and implementing programs as well.

The first question employees consider before accepting a position is, “How am I going to get to work?” If a company includes commuter benefits in human resources and personnel practices, that company can add value to compensation packages and help their workers integrate a work-life balance at a new level.

During my long career I have had opportunities to take metro rail into work, bike to work during nice days in the summer, and even take flex days off. I have to admit that I was happiest at work when I was able to examine a number of options for commuting. At one position, I had a subsidy to help cover the cost of using metro rail, as well as a pre-tax benefit when the subsidy began to not keep pace with rising Metro fares. I also had a  position in which my employer provided facilities for locking and storing bikes and providing showers, so I didn’t stink the entire day. That went a long way in improving my satisfaction with the position.

So, if an employer asks his/her employee “how was your commute?” that employer should consider how they themselves can influence that response. The company may not only attract worthy candidates with a comprehensive commuter benefits package, but also keep them for the long-term.

James Davenport is a TDM Employer Outreach Specialist, on contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that, James worked for Prince William County/Department of Transportation as a Regional Planner. In that capacity, he represented the county in regional forums and worked with planners and staff from other localities and transit agencies to help the region plan for its transportation future. For many years, James worked with the National Association of Counties as a project manager providing education and outreach to county officials, staff and key stakeholder groups on planning issues such as transportation, water quality, collaborative land use and economic development.

Charitable Giving

Tis the Season to Give… Well Every Season is the Season to Give

Tis the season! It’s that time of year again when some of the biggest holidays in the American culture are celebrated: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah. Also known as the giving season. It’s also the end of the year for tax deductions, so in November and December there is increase in charitable giving compared to other months throughout the year.  With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas just a few weeks away, it’s never too late to spread generosity. In fact, you should always think of ways to give back whenever you have the chance. Giving is not about how good it makes you feel but what you can do to lend a hand to those in need. Here are a few ways on how you can give back over the holidays and all year round:

Volunteer at a soup kitchen/feeding. Give a couple of hours of your day to help serve food at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or a feeding event with a local organization or church.

Pack care packages. Buy Ziploc bags and fill them with toiletry products, a water bottle, soft cereal bars, crackers, fruit snacks (or other manageable healthy food products), and a card of encouragement and give them out to the homeless with friends or family members.

 Donate clothes or toys. Find a local clothing or toy drive and donate gently used or new items to organizations. You may be able to find drives in a mall, the lobby of your office or apartment building, or even a nearby Starbucks.

 Adopt a family. Many local organizations can help you sponsor a family in need to shop for over the holiday season.

Donate to a food bank. During your shopping trip to the grocery store, pick out nonperishable food items to take to a food bank or a local bank. You can also see about volunteering at the food bank. Make sure to double check the type of food the food bank accepts.

 Visit a nursing home or hospital. With family or friends visit a local nursing home or hospital by spending quality time with residents or patients. Sing a few Christmas carols, bring personalized cards and decorations, or create activities and play games. Many people are without families. Coming with a warm heart can simply brighten up someone’s day.

 Create your own donation drive. Select a charity for you drive and specify the items that you want to collect. Determine the location and date for your drive. Make fliers and do a social media campaign, contact local business, and advertise by word of the mouth to family members, friends, co-workers, and business owners to donate.

 Donate to a charity. If there is a cause or a specific organization that you are passionate about donate money. You would probably spend that money on your daily coffee, an outfit, a movie ticket, or your monthly streaming service bill.

 Go online. Research local organizations in your community or city. There are plenty of organizations around you that you have no idea exists. Understand what they are about and the cause they are representing. Learn about their volunteering and donating opportunities.

I hope this list was helpful in providing you with many great opportunities to give this holiday season. Over the past several years I have volunteered at the Thanksgiving and Christmas feedings at my church back in my hometown in NY. This year I plan to donate to the toy drive at my local mall for a children’s hospital. Now that I told you my plans, it’s time for you to start thinking about yours if you haven’t done so already. Happy Holidays!

Jazmin Kimble is an Urban Planner and Urban Designer  from Long Island, NY. She has a passion for empowering and planning adequate, equitable communities through the lens of Geodesign, Urban Design, Community Development, Sustainability, Environmental Solutions, and Community Engagement. Jazmin believes the culture and the history of a community is what makes it unique. This approach allows her to design with communities from a holistic viewpoint.

 

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Tis the Season for Saving

A thoughtful and Thankful Thanksgiving

 

Tis the season for boots, thick scarves, feasting and fun! Of all things to be thankful for, consider the privilege of having enough water and energy to enjoy the soul-warming festivities of thanksgiving. Whether you realize it or not, there are plenty of easy opportunities to sustainably enjoy this awesome holiday without having to do much different than what you already do. Consider these hacks for saving water, energy and money.

 

1) Reduce food waste- Typically, our first instinct is to cook buffet style, cooking enough to have leftovers for at least a week. Scrap that (pun intended). Save money and energy, and reduce food waste by getting an accurate count for dinner attendees. Cook just enough to satisfy your attendees or serve smaller portions. Encourage seconds. Whatever you do, make sure all food is enjoyed. Compost food scraps when possible but be sure to keep food items out of the sink.

 

2) Recycle water- Half-drunk bottles or cups of water all around the room? No problem. Collect abandoned cups of water and use for pets, indoor plants, or washing your car! Rather than letting water run, wash all produce in a basin or plugged sink. Recycle that same water to soak dirty utensils or cookware. Use your dishwasher to wash full loads of dishes. If you decide to wash dishes by hand, designate one basin to wash dishes and another for rinsing.

 

3) Conserve energy- Saving money makes holidays even more enjoyable. Save money and conserve energy by turning off lights in unoccupied rooms and use natural light when available. Also, cook side dishes that can be cooked at the same time and temperature as the turkey. Not only will it reduce cooking time and energy costs, it’ll quiet anxious and hangry guests a lot sooner! No one likes hangry guests!

 

Of course, these are not the only ways to celebrate the holidays in sustainable ways. But it’s a great start for beginner conservationists. Nonetheless, Nspiregreen wishes everyone a great holiday season, full of happiness, uplifting family time, and savings!

 

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Christie Holland is an urban planner from St. Louis, MO interested in community development, transportation planning, infrastructure, and urban design challenges. 





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