Companies asked to volunteer help on cuts to commuting

Dec. 02, 2013 @ 07:53 PM

They may have repealed an ordinance making participation mandatory, but County Commissioners agreed Monday they should continue asking large employers to voluntarily help prod workers to use alternatives to commuting alone by car.
They acknowledged that will likely mean coming up with local funds to cover the $16,000 or so it costs each year for staff and promotional materials, instead of relying on a fee levied on employers.
But “we’re not going to be deterred from something that’s a good program that makes sense,” Commissioner Wendy Jacobs said before Monday’s 5-0 vote.
It came slightly more than a month after Jacobs and her colleagues repealed the mandatory “commute trip reduction” ordinance that’s been on the books since 2000.
The mandatory program ran afoul of a new statewide “regulatory reform” law, passed mostly with Republican support in the N.C. General Assembly, that barred local governments from using fees and fines to secure cooperation with trip-reduction efforts.
The state’s move annoyed local officials, who considered the program a success. They believe it diverted about 21 percent of large-employer commuter traffic into carpools, telecommuting, transit and other alternatives to driving to work alone.
“We adopt so many plans and set lofty goals and often don’t achieve them, but in this case, we overachieved,” Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said.
The mandatory program targeted employers with 100 or more people on staff. Employers in addition to paying a $200 annual fee had to survey workers about their commuting habits and report their findings Triangle Transit.
Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce officials reported fielding complaints from time to time from members businesses about red tape. But neither it nor the county asked the General Assembly to intervene.
Commissioners are hoping that key Durham-based employers like IBM and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina continue to work local governments on trip-reduction efforts, even though they can no longer require cooperation.
Reckhow said she’d also like the county to make cooperation a condition of future business-incentive deals.
But John White, the chamber’s government affairs director, cautioned against that both on the grounds of legality and for its potential to complicate business-recruitment work.
The money needed to pay for continued promotional efforts will most likely come from the proceeds of federal grants that support programs that promise improvements in congestion management and air quality.
The grants are administered by the city staff and controlled by a consortium of local governments from Durham and Orange counties.