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Fall 2009, True Tale
How Mollie Gore Started an Office Carpool
Only a year ago, Mollie Gore drove 40 miles round trip every weekday to her job at the headquarters of South Carolina’s largest electric and water utility. So did more than 700 other employees, in more than 700 private cars. They might have been forgiven for thinking that they had no choice: there was very limited public transit in the area, and the company’s headquarters are located in a small town that’s 20-40 miles from the nearest cities.
“That was one of the challenges that we faced when we started designing a commuter benefits program,” recalls Gore, who works in corporate communications. “We looked around the country at major employers in rural areas, and there wasn’t a good model.”
Where Gore and others saw potential for transforming the company’s commutes was in ridesharing. Even in car-dependent parts of the country, there is tremendous potential to take cars off the road by sharing rides. Many cars have seats for at least four or five passengers, and yet 44 percent of the almost a billion personal car trips each day in the US are driven with only one of those seats occupied, according to the US Department of Transportation. A host of new ridesharing software services makes it easier for people to form carpooling groups in their communities and workplaces.
Sharing rides means that people drive less, which has a major environmental benefit, reducing global warming emissions and air pollution. Ridesharing also introduces good company into what otherwise might be solitary car trips. In carpools, coworkers can meet, sharing stories and conversation.
At Gore and Wren’s workplace, a survey of staff found that there was a lot of interest in finding different ways to get to work--ways that would reduce environmental impact and save gas money. The iRide program that Gore helped develop sought to reduce the miles driven and greenhouse gas emissions of Santee Cooper’s employees using two strategies: two new buses, and an extensive online ride-matching program.
First, the company contracted with Tri-County Link to create a bus route from the two closest cities to company headquarters, Summerville and North Charleston, and sweetened the deal for commuters by offering the first few months of bus service free. Gore says that “people have gotten to know each other” on her bus, which not only means that she “now knows who else likes cats,” but also facilitates cross-departmental collaboration across the company.
|Molie Gore worked to start a bus service for her colleagues.|
Second, the company hired The AlterNetWays Company to design software for a ridesharing program. Mark Evanoff at AlterNetWays works directly with “destinations”—large institutions to which many people drive regularly, such as universities and workplaces. He created a customized application window that opens directly from the company’s Web site. Employees at all of the utility’s 18 locations can log in and post when and from where they drive, whether or not they listen to the radio or smoke, whether or not they’d like to share driving, and whether or not they’d like to charge a set reimbursement cost for a portion of the gas. Interested riders can click on the ride offers to see the routes illustrated on an online map, and they can e-mail each other through the system anonymously to begin coordinating a carpool.
In its first year, more than 300 employees have signed up through this system to form carpools. In the first half of 2009, the iRide program at Santee Cooper has already eliminated more than a million miles driven across its workforce, and prevented the emission of almost 323,000 pounds of greenhouse gases. The iRide program meets the EPA’s National Standard for Excellence in commuter programs, and the National Center for Transit Research named the company a “Best Workplace for Commuters” in 2009.
Mark Evanoff, founder of AlterNetWays, believes that organizing ridesharing among people who share a common destination maximizes the likelihood of successful ride matches. A number of other companies also offer ridesharing Internet services that employers can make available to their employees, including NuRide.com, RideShare.com, ZimRide.com, and carpool groups at Carpoolworld.com. Members of the social networking Web site Facebook.com can coordinate rides with “friends” and those in their school or workplace-based network by downloading its free Carpool application, powered by Zimride. Evanoff of AlterNetWays is so excited to spread the word about ride matching that his company makes a customized ridesharing application available free to any house of worship that wishes to coordinate weekly shared rides for its congregants.
Gore’s advice for other companies, congregations, or schools that want to reduce car miles driven by their participants is to listen to people’s concerns. In Santee Cooper’s case, employees said that they were most concerned that ride-sharing would make it difficult to go out for lunch during the workday, or to get home quickly in an emergency. So the iRide program drew up a list of local restaurants that are willing to deliver lunch right to staff offices, and it encouraged all supervisors to facilitate emergency rides home when necessary.
“If there’s a reason people think they can’t participate, and you start talking about it, you can find a solution,” says Gore.
Santee Cooper has undertaken an award-winning commuter benefits program and some promising initiatives in efficiency and renewable energy. Learn more about how you can ask your utility to respond to the climate crisis in our Real Green article.