Friday September 17, 2010
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 an acceptable, reliable and even preferred commute of choice.
That is why transit officials gave more than a tip of the hat to the frontline employee transportation coordinators at the 12th annual Diamond Awards on Wednesday, handing out some 18 glittering Diamond Awards to top-producing Southern California employers at an awards luncheon held at The Grove.
Hosted by Metro Commute Services, Ventura County Transportation Commission and Orange County Transportation Agency, the 12th 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.
K.N. Murthy, Metro’s Deputy Chief of Capital Management, gave the keynote address on the rideshare benefits of I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project, as well as planned construction activities.
In an array of categories that demonstrate the multifaceted approach needed to corral the region’s errant traffic, 26 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 Diamond Award for 2010 was awarded to the California Institute of Technology, the renowned research university located in Pasadena. With a robust bike-to-work and to-school program that currently attracts some 600 participants, Caltech offers a wide array of commuter services, including rideshare, transit subsidies, telework, flextime and an organized vanpool service, to a combined workforce and student population of more that 4,000.
Kristina Valenzuela, Caltech’s employee transportation coordinator who accepted the Diamond Award on behalf of the university, told organizers, that in addition to their annual bike fair and a new secured parking cage for bikes, the Rideshare program soon will be launching a folding bike loaner program on campus, stocked with new orange folding bikes.
By promoting public transportation options in the face of the daily traffic grind, Southern California employers offer solutions to traffic congestion and damage to 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 California Institute of Technology; The Aerospace Corporation, Los Angeles World Airports, UCLA Transportation, White Memorial Medical Center, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Glendale Transportation Management Associates and Warner Center TMO.
A special Jade Award - for excellence in a vanpool program - went to Belkin International, Inc. corporate headquarters in Playa Vista.
Honorable mentions lauded innovative solutions that advanced rideshare participation and make the region a better place to live. Cartoon Network Studios solved a parking problem by limiting it and sweetening the deal with gift cards. Pasadena Towers launched Ecomute, a greener way to get to work. Specialty Laboratories – Quest Diagnostics continues to expand their all-out marketing effort. One West Bank staged a casino-themed Bike-to-Work Day kickoff that got twice as many employees to bike to work. Gateway Plaza – C.B. Richard Ellis Inc. went from zero to eight vanpools last year. The City of Pasadena continues to raise the bar on participation with a higher and higher AVR (average number of riders per vehicle) every year. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works operates a wide-ranging rideshare program that provides a framework to shuttle employees on the 4/40 workday, monitor traffic signals to improve traffic flow, and maintain conversion of fleet vehicles to meet clean air standards.
The top honors in Ventura County went to ETC of the Year Alex Rivera of Telair International, and the rideshare programs of Aetna Service Center in Thousand Oaks, Oxnard Lemon Company, Wellpoint, Inc. and SolarWorld Industries America LP.
Awards for Orange County top efforts in commuting and parking management on behalf of their employees and the community went to County of Orange, UC Irvine, and Spectrumotion Transportation Management Association.
“The Diamond Awards encourages businesses to establish, continue and improve alternative transportation options and incentives," said David Sutton, director of Metro Commute Services.
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, he said.
The Diamond Awards underscore the Texas Transportation Institute’s 2009 Annual Urban Mobility Report, which noted that traffic congestion continues to plague American cities of all sizes, creating a $87.2 billion annual drain on the U.S. economy in the form of 4.2 billion lost hours and 2.8 billion gallons of wasted fuel.
Citing 2007 statistics, the report noted the Los Angeles/Long Beach/Santa Ana area still leads in annual delays for travelers, amounting to 70 hours and 53 gallons of wasted fuel per traveler. That's 485 million wasted hours stuck in traffic, 367 million gallons of gas and a congestion cost of $10.3 billion.
Travelers spent one hour less in traffic in 2007 than they did the year before and wasted one gallon less gasoline than the year before. The differences are small, but they represent a rare break in near-constant growth in traffic over 25 years.