Tuesday May 24, 2011
From the super-sized savings in commuters' pockets to a decrease in gasoline consumption and emissions reflected in recent public transportation ridership tallies, the concept of ridesharing is fast emerging from a disregarded option perceived as inconvenient into a reliable commute of choice.
That is why transit officials gave more than a tip of the hat to the frontline employee transportation coordinators at the 13th annual Diamond Awards on Tuesday, handing out some 17 glittering Diamond Awards and a score of honorable mentions to top-producing Southern California employers at an awards luncheon held May 24 in Los Angeles.
The awards were handed out by frontline traffic reporter Dona Dower, whose commentary celebrated the rideshare efforts of the employers who provide a glimmer of traffic relief on the crowded freeways. Dower, who began her broadcast career with Metro Traffic Control in 1982, reports traffic on KFRG, KNX 1070 and KBBY.
Hosted by Metro Commute Services, Ventura County Transportation Commission and Orange County Transportation Agency, the 13th annual Rideshare Diamond Awards showcased the alternative transportation programs of employers whose unfailing perseverance continues to chip away at traffic congestion by providing their employees with a full range of commuter options, services and programs.
In an array of categories that demonstrate the multifaceted approach needed to corral the region's errant traffic, nearly 30 rideshare programs coordinated by employers in Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties were singled out for recognition.
Illuminating a stellar effort in unraveling the region's huge traffic knot, the Corporate Blue Diamond Award for 2011 was awarded to UCLA Transportation, an industry leader for more than 25 years. Nearly half of the UCLA employees and 70 percent of commuting students get to work and school by a wide range of alternative commuting options. While the campus, staff and student body continues to grow, car trips are down from last year by two percent. The quest for alternative commuting continues: A new Bruin commuter club will debut next month.
UCLA's extensive transportation program includes a 100-percent CNG-powered campus shuttle system with 1.2 million annual ridership; a subsidized transit pass program with six transit service providers coming to campus; 160 commuter vanpools serving 85 communities; carsharing, online carpool matching; and a strong bicycling program, which includes a bike "library," departmental bikes, and cyclist amenities.
These alternative mode programs reduce commuting greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 10,000 metric tons per year, and result in more than 2,000,000 vehicle trips not taken. When all efforts to mitigate traffic are considered, UCLA generates less vehicle traffic today than it did in 1990, despite a 30% growth in the campus.
By promoting public transportation options in the face of the daily traffic grind, Southern California employers offer solutions to traffic congestion, air quality and the environment by reducing the number of cars on the road, noted co-host Alan Holmes, Ventura County Transportation Commission.
Among them, the top rideshare programs in Los Angeles County included Los Angeles World Airports, UCLA Transportation, ECOmmute Program of Pasadena Towers, Los Angeles County Dept. of Children and Family Services, Howard Hughes Center, Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (LACERA) Rideshare Team, and Huntington Pavilion GO Group.
A special Jade Award - for excellence in a vanpool program - went to Jet Propulsion Laboratory corporate headquarters in Pasadena.
Honorable mentions lauded innovative solutions of employers based in Los Angeles County who advanced rideshare participation and make the region a better place to live. Those so honored were: Aerospace Commute Services, DIRECTV , Xerox Corporation, Southern California Edison, Northrop Grumman, California State University Los Angeles, Metropolitan Water District, Kaiser Permanente, and Fuller Theological Seminary.
The top honors in Ventura County went to "ETC of the Year" Nancy Mcclure of Community Memorial Hospital, and the rideshare programs of SolarWorld Industries America LP, Wellpoint, Inc. and City of Ventura Police Department.
Awards for Orange County top efforts in commuting and parking management on behalf of their employees and the community went to "ETC of the Year" Michael Davis of U.C. Irvine, the Irvine Ranch Water District, MicroVention Inc., Fluor Corporation and The Disneyland Resort and Anaheim Transportation Network.
"The Diamond Awards encourages businesses to establish, continue and improve alternative transportation options and incentives," said co-host Sandy Boyle, rideshare administrator at Orange County Transportation Authority.
Although some form of organized ridesharing has been around since the 1970s, the recent peak in alternatives to the single-occupancy vehicle mode of transportation may signal a turning point in relieving traffic congestion on the car-laden corridors of Southern California.
The Diamond Awards underscore the Texas Transportation Institute's 2010 Annual Urban Mobility Report on Congestion, which noted LA County is ranked #1 for operational improvements that have reduced 63 million hours of annual delay, resulting in cost savings of $1.5 billion. Equally important is the fact that the region ranks #4 in the nation in terms of transit improvements, annually reducing 33 million hours of delay and $733 million because of the public transportation system.
Metro Chairman and Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe credited the alternative commute for holding congestion at bay:"While it certainly is no surprise that LA County suffers from traffic congestion, it is important to note that over the last 20 years we have managed to hold steady even though the county's population has grown by 1.5 million people. We've done so through the expansion of our rail and bus network, the addition of carpool lanes to area freeways and aggressive outreach programs to get people to rideshare by joining a large network of car and vanpools to combat congestion."
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