Leaving the car at home

How employers can help combat gridlock

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

It’s one of those days when my wife needed the car, so I’m forced to take transit to work. My commute is a two hour ordeal each way, taking three separate transit systems. It costs me $10 each way just to commute about 35 kilometres from what’s really an eastern suburb of Toronto to another suburban location within the east end of the city.

It would have been much faster and cheaper if I just drove today. But it really shouldn’t be that way.

If my family wants to come into the city for an event, it actually costs more and takes longer for the three of us to take the commuter train into the city than to drive in, fight downtown Toronto traffic, find and pay for parking. Again, that shouldn't be the case, but it is.

We pat ourselves on the back for supposedly being green and transit-friendly, but that’s often far from reality. If that were truly the case, transit would be the cheaper option and certainly a lot more convenient than it currently is in many cases. Other than those who live near the downtown cores of major cities, transit just isn’t a viable option for many Canadians.

Support for public transit

Don't get me wrong. I'm a major supporter of public transit.

For years when I lived closer to the city I took transit every day. I didn't even bother renewing my driver's license for the longest time — so long that when I finally needed my license I had to start the process of obtaining a license all over again as if I were a teenager.

Yet even now I find it enjoyable at times not having to stress out about driving in bad traffic or finding parking. Right now, I'm typing my blog on my BlackBerry while relaxing on the bus, which is great. If I wanted to, I could also read or have a little snooze. 

However, even the bus is fighting gridlock on Highway 401, which has been referred to as North America's busiest. And traffic congestion in the Toronto area is now said to be worse than Los Angeles. Clearly something has to be done.

What can employers do to help?

So what does this have to do with HR? Well, there are things employers can do to be green, help combat gridlock, improve productivity and relieve employee stress caused by commuting.

Some of these measures include:

•Having flexible hours so employees don't have to fight rush hour traffic.

•Allowing employees to work from home or at an off-site location.

•Having virtual meetings and cutting back on business travel wherever possible.

•Setting up carpool programs for employees.

•Providing private transportation for employees, particularly where the workplace is located in a remote area.

•Locating in transit and pedestrian-friendly areas or in close proximity to major residential areas.

•Providing employees with transit passes as a benefit.

•Installing bike racks and having showers for employees to freshen up after cycling to work.

•Lobbying governments to provide better transit options for employees.

Don’t punish drivers or suburban dwellers

Possibly because I’m a driver and a suburbanite, however, I prefer to take a carrot rather than a stick approach to these types of things. I know there are many urban dwellers who sneer at people who live in the suburbs and actually believe we should make it more difficult and expensive to drive. (They also frequently buy into some pretty downright ridiculous, even hateful stereotypes about people who live in the suburbs. But that’s another story.)

While I understand the sentiment to a large extent, as I’ve already noted transit isn’t yet a viable option for many people. It’s also financially and logistically impossible for everyone to live downtown. And it would cause people legitimate financial hardship to make commuting more expensive than it already is.

Therefore, I wouldn’t support things like tolls, congestion charges, carbon taxes or increased parking fees — at least not until transit gets a whole lot better and more inexpensive. But rather than making it more difficult to drive, we should first concentrate on making it easier to take transit, walk, cycle or telecommute.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.

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