Taking a page from the ecology-oriented building certification program LEED, a transit advocacy group is certifying organizations that are going transportation-friendly.
Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) has signed up 18 nonprofits in Minneapolis and St. Paul to promote options to help their employees get around without driving a personal car.
The organizations are doing everything from posting links to transit and bike routes on their websites to holding events in places accessible by bike, bus or train. Some have opened corporate car- and bike-sharing accounts, and others are providing financial incentives and other perks to employees who don’t drive to work alone.
“It’s been designed for 50 to 60 years to drive a car, and everybody knows those routines,” said Hilary Reeves, communications director for TLC. “They don’t necessarily know how to access all the new transportation options that have come along. These organizations are taking ownership of what transportation can mean to people and for those who work there. They are setting a new standard.”
Susie Schatz is excited that she could save as much as $40 a month on her health insurance premiums. Starting in January, her employer, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, will allow employees who take public transportation or bike to the office to earn points as part of its wellness program. The points can be used to cut insurance costs.
“It’s nice that my company is supportive of this,” said Schatz, director of advocacy and volunteer services. “It benefits everybody, saves money and does right for the environment.”
Amanda Pike, a staffer at the Epilepsy Foundation, was wedded to her car until she attended one of TLC’s “Lunch and Learn” seminars, which show people car-sharing and pedestrian options, and even take people on the city bus and a spin on a Nice Ride bike. It got her to hop on public transportation.
“This is not something I would have done on my own,” she said. “When I saw how easy it is, I said, ‘I can do this.’ It’s just changing a mind-set.”
Here are some examples of changes the TLC is applauding:
• The Epilepsy Foundation took out a corporate membership with Hourcar so employees who took public transportation to work would have a car at their disposal during the day.
• The Minnesota Literacy Council took out an organizational membership with the Nice Ride bike-sharing program that allows employees to get a season pass for just $30, about half the normal price. The council also is providing Go-To cards that employees can use to take buses and trains to appointments. In turn, that will save the nonprofit on parking and mileage reimbursement costs, said associate director Debbie Cushman.
“It’s so much cheaper,” she said. “There is no reason not to do this.”
• Operation de Novo in Minneapolis, which provides services for first-time offenders in the criminal justice system, is moving away from a stipend just for parking toward one in which all employees would get a stipend to cover transportation costs whether they drive, bus, bike or walk.
“It’s about being equitable,” said Ryan Ellis, director of operations, who noted the nonprofit also set up a Car2Go account for employees.
Funded by the Metropolitan Council through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, TLC joined up with the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits to enroll organizations. Each participating nonprofit attends a Rethinking Transportation workshop and commits to completing steps to be certified as a Transportation Leader at one of three levels.
At a minimum, each of the 18 nonprofits agreed to six criteria such as making it a priority to host events at locations accessible by transit.
Organizations seeking higher levels of certification pledged additional things such as installing showers, subsidizing bus passes, adding bike parking or setting up corporate bike- or car-sharing accounts. Some even adopted flexible work schedules to accommodate employees who use transit.
The 18 organizations were recognized at the annual conference of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and in a series of ads on Green Line trains.