Dont Drive, They Said

The state recognizes the best places for commuters to workTRENTON – Bumper-to-bumper traffic, high gas prices and angry motorists are an everyday part of many New Jersey commutes. But some companies are working to change that, and last month the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) recognized 22 Garden State businesses for their efforts to improve the often-frustrating life of their commuters.

NJDOT’s inaugural “Best Workplaces for Commuters” list recognizes companies that “give employees a good reason not to drive to work every day,” says spokesperson Tim Greeley. “The DOT likes to put forward anything that can take cars off the road.”

The list includes pharmaceutical giants Merck and Wyeth, along with public agencies such as The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, NJ Transit and nonprofits like the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association. Other honorees include the Educational Testing Service in Princeton and Parsippany-based D&B (see box).

The “Best Workplaces for Commuters” list is part of a national program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation. To make the list, companies must provide some combination of busing, train passes, van pools or subsidies for mass transportation.

Wyeth, which employs almost 1,500 workers at its Madison and Princeton sites, runs a commuter assistance center that provides shuttle busses and encourages car pooling. Wyeth says the shuttles average 2,000 employee trips per month. In addition, employees have organized 50 car pools and 10 van pools. Wyeth says its combined programs save workers 200,000 commuting miles and 9,000 gallons of fuel every month.

One of the smaller companies to make the list was HART Commuter Information Services. The four-person nonprofit in Flemington serves as a resource to commuters who want to car pool in Hunterdon county. Among other things, the service provides vouchers for car washes and oil changes for car poolers. Spokesperson Tara Braddish says the nonprofit, which is partially funded by the DOT, gives people who bike to their offices vouchers for bicycle-maintenance work.

One way to keep employees happy is to help lower their traveling expenses, says Denise La Pene, the director of human resources for the Visiting Homemaker Service of Hudson County, another honoree, that employs more than 400 home-health aides.

La Pene says the service hands out about 200 bus cards each month and subsidizes employees who take the bus or train to work. “We do what we can to make it easier for our aides to get around,” says La Pene. “We realize the cost of transportation is high.”

Also recognized for its efforts to take cars off the road was TransOptions in Cedar Knolls. The 10-person company helps big employers like Johnson & Johnson and Intel reduce the number of cars their employees drive to the office.

“You can’t get everybody off the road,” says John Ciaffone, TransOptions president. “But if we can reduce traffic by 10% over time, you’ll see a reduction in the amount of time it takes you to get to work.”

Ciaffone says TransOptions has helped Intel develop a shuttle system for employees. The microchip maker’s staff of 656 in Parsippany works on software and voice and data technologies. TransOptions has also worked with Roche to encourage nearly 140 employees to car pool to work at the company’s offices Nutley.

Among Trans-Option’s roughly 50 clients, Ciaffone counts 300 employees that use van pools to get to work. The goal, he says, is to have “at least 14% of a company’s employees pair up for the ride to work.”

TransOptions also “practices what it preaches,” Ciaffone says. Five employees telecommute at least two days a month and three employees car pool “at least two days a week,” he says. The company allows employees to keep flexible schedules to avoid morning and evening rush hours while putting in full days.

Ciaffone says all businesses can benefit from easing their workers’ commutes. “This helps companies keep and attract qualified employees,” Ciaffone says. “If you know that a company has a better commute situation, that might be an incentive to go to work for that company.”

E-mail to bquinlan@njbiz.com

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