Public transportation, carpools, and vanpools have done a lot to shift commuters out of single occupant vehicles and reduce congestion. Still, many more drivers would make the change if they were not worried about getting home quickly when unexpected circumstances arise.
Alameda County congestion-management professionals acknowledged this concern when they designed the Guaranteed Ride Home (GRH) program. Their goal was to assuage commuters' concerns about getting stranded at the workplace when they opt for any of the multiple alternatives to the solo commute.
"The Alameda County GRH Program does just what it says - it guarantees a free ride home via taxi or rental car for working employees in the event of unexpected circumstances such as illness, family crisis, or unscheduled overtime," explains program administrator Adina Ringler. It covers not only the trip from the workplace to the home but also any emergency-related stops, "like going to school first to pick up your child or going to the hospital, at no cost to the user."
Employees are eligible to participate as long as they have taken transit (BART, bus, etc.), a carpool, a vanpool, walked, or biked to work, and live within 100 miles of their worksite. A voucher system means participants have no cash outlay for either taxi or rental car, both available through firms contracted for the service. "There's no reimbursement," Ringler points out. "When you sign up for the program, we send you a packet of information and a ride voucher. That's what you give to the taxi driver or the car rental agency."
Because GRH is employer-based, it does not matter if the employee lives outside of Alameda County. However, employers must first sign up for the program on the website and designate a contact person before their workers are eligible to participate. Ringler's office has plenty of promotional material - sample emails, newsletter text, brochures, all offered at no charge-to publicize the program in the workplace.
The program is a free commuter benefit for employers and employees operated through the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency and funded with a Transportation Funds for Clean Air grant. Its long-term goal is to reduce congestion and improve air quality. With the exception of Marin, all Bay Area counties offer GRH, some requiring an employee co-payment. "Alameda has the largest and most flexible program," Ringler relates, noting that the only limit is "a very reasonable" six rides per year per person.
Ringler also reports the program has been very effective. Based on annual, county-wide survey results, she calculates that, from its inception in 1998 through 2009, GRH produced a decrease of 322,536 single occupancy vehicle trips annually. According to a study conducted by Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates for the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency in 2009, "63 percent of respondents reported that GRH was at least somewhat important in their decision to stop driving alone. Respondents indicated that the program positively influences their commute decisions."
The GRH program currently has 4,300 employee participants from 208 active employers in the county. Of that number, 18 are Hacienda tenants. "While GRH utilization among Hacienda Business Park is good, there's plenty of room for many more companies to enroll in the service," she says, adding that she would like to see all employers sign up for this free, easy-to-use benefit.
For more information, select the "Order Materials" option from the Tools menu at www.hacienda.org, visit alamedagrh.org , or call Ringler at (510) 433-0320.
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