In 1989, California passed the Clean Air Act in an attempt to combat the increasing levels of air pollution that had made cities such as Los Angeles synonymous with smog. Because much of the state’s pollution problems were as a result of the phenomenal number of Californian commuters, the CATt called upon businesses in the state to take an active role in reducing the number of cars on the road. Companies with 100 employees or more at one site were told to submit “rideshare” plans to California’s Air Quality Management District (AQMD) each year. The rideshare plans were to be centered on achieving an employee average vehicle ridership (AVR) of 1.5, or 3 employees to every 2 cars on site, by 1999. And to ensure that the Clean Air Act would be taken seriously, the AQMD was authorized to fine companies without approved rideshare programs up to $25,000 a day. Needless to say, this left most companies scrambling to find ways to get their employees to share rides.
Farmers Insurance Group is one California Company that is not only succeeding in complying with the Act, but excelling. In one year we went from an average vehicle ridership of 1.17 to 1.30 and we are still growing, Debbie Dala, employee transportation coordinator at Farmers stated proudly. We used the opportunity presented by the Clean Air Act to develop a comprehensive employee incentive program to encourage ridesharing and strengthen our commitment to the environment.
Getting employees to rideshare is not as easy as Dala makes it sound. Many companies offering everything from cash to preferred parking for employees who rideshare have met with results less spectacular than those seen at Farmers. Victoria Collins, vice president of marketing for the promotional company JSI West, points out that Farmers’ success is not typical. Companies come to us having implemented a program for a year or more and having an AVR as low as 1.06. For farmers to increase its ridership to 1.3 in one year is pretty good, says Collins. While JSI provided rideshare incentive program for Farmers, the real reason for their success, says Collins, has been the aggressive participation of Dala herself. She markets the program, sets up activities and events, and publishes a newsletter, she says. You need a person who has a sense of which types of awards are right for your employees.
In order to arouse interest in ridesharing, farmers set up an incentive program that enable employees to earn points that can be redeemed for, merchandise ranging from a bird feeder to an inflatable catamaran. One woman used her points for a flashlight for her husband’s car, in case of a road emergency. Then she decided that she needed one for herself, recalled Dala. To be eligible for the ridesharing award program, employees must share rides for at least half of the distance between home and the office, and they must share rides at least one day a week. They earn one point for every day they rideshare and employees who earn 20 points in a month receive five bonus points. Employees who receive 60 points in a quarter receive 10 bonus points. Additional bonus points can be earned by recruiting co-workers. With the points earned, employees then shop from a special catalog that includes a variety of electronic equipment and tools. It only takes 25 points the equivalent of just one month’s ridesharing to get an AM/FM Walkman radio. For 150 points an employee can purchase a Sony Mega Watchman or, for 340 points, a Toshiba 20” color television. [Employees] really enjoy the awards and find the levels attainable, says Dala.
During her early days of administrating the rideshare program at Farmers, Dala concentrated most of her attention on organizing a foundation for the program. Once the program became established, though, she was able to shift her efforts more toward recruiting new hires. Human resources provide me with a 10 to 15 minute segment during the new hire orientation, so I can explain the program to the new employees, says Dala. This gets them before they have established habits. She gives a history of the clean Air Act and Farmers’ support of it and then explains the point system. She also shows off the merchandise catalog. For those new hires who are interested, Dala uses a list of employees currently ridesharing, typical arrival and departure times, and zip codes to put rideshare in contact with one another.
It is not enough, though, for Dala merely to sign up new recruits. Companies need to do something to stimulate interest in the program and keep employees in the program until it becomes a habit, Collins asserted. The first year of a rideshare program is the hardest. Dala’s effort are therefore also aimed at continually promoting the program in order to keep participating employees on board. We have a bulletin board which is changed once a month, she pointed out. It has a new member section and a section from the catalog. Flyers are put to remind people, and put on a slogan and jingle contest once a month. In addition, when employees pick up their awards, Dala puts their pictures on the bulletin board. It never fails, she remarked. Right after that, two more people come down from the same department to look at the catalog.
Dala efforts have paid off. Employees enjoy using the points to purchase goods, and some even appreciate the social aspect of the ridesharing experience. People seem to like to rideshare. They make friends with their rideshare partners. Under Dala’s leadership Farmers has been able to implement one of the most successful ridesharing programs in the country. Ridesharing has also reduced some employees’ stress, which in turn, could lead them to work more productively.