Companies Rev Up Ride-Sharing Programs

Times Staff Writer

After one month of operation, the car-pool lane on the Costa Mesa Freeway is credited with adding some 700 car pools to the more than 75,000 car pools estimated to be in the county.

According to a study released last week by the Orange County Transportation Commission, the 11-mile-long lane--which is limited to cars with two or more passengers--carried 500 newly formed car pools in the first two weeks since it opened Nov. 18.

The commission's study, conducted by transit workers who count the cars and number of people in each, shows that all drivers on the Costa Mesa Freeway are benefiting from the lane. Driving time during rush hour along the stretch has dropped from 35 to 18 minutes for other traffic, and car-pool drivers speed along the 11 miles in just 11 minutes.

"This is much more positive than we anticipated," said Gary Edson, director of the Orange County Transit District's Commuter Network. "I thought it would reach this level after one month and it did it in two weeks." Commuter Network, which encourages ride sharing in the county, sent out 85,000 brochures on the new lane to people and businesses near the Costa Mesa Freeway, pointing out the advantages of car-pooling.

Beyond the 75,000 car pools in the county, Edson estimates that there are 400 van pools carrying more than 4,000 people. Each year, Edson estimates, an additional 5,000 people join car pools in the county. Of the 700 new car pools using the freeway, Edson said, 100 of those were set up through his office. And he expects the number of car pools to grow as more car-pool lanes are added to other freeways in the county.

"Since 1980, we've had a fairly steady plateau in the number of car pools," Edson said. "But I think this lane will raise that plateau and the next project will raise it and the next one after that will raise it a little more. Beyond the lanes, we've gotten a lot more aggressive in marketing the advantages of car pools," Edson said.

When the name of the county's ride-sharing program was changed to Commuter Network in 1984, OCTD sponsored a contest to acquaint potential car poolers with the new name. More than 650 prizes were donated by county businesses, including sets of tires, limousine rides and trips to London and Hawaii. About 100,000 mailers were sent to areas in the county that Edson's office targeted as having the highest potential for car-pooling.

Commuter Network's marketing plan calls for similar contests each year, and Edson said that his office is distributing surveys to county businesses to gather car-pooling information from employees to expand the network's computerized listing of potential ride sharers. To improve the number of responses to the survey, coupons worth $15 to $20 in free merchandise are given to respondents.

Programs Expanding

After the surveys are returned, Commuter Network calls people who have indicated a strong interest in car-pooling and have placed 25% of those people in car pools, Edson said. Lists of potential ride sharers and maps of possible routes are made by the network and sent back to the individual companies, along with a proposal for a ride-sharing program and information on van pools and buses.

And although many of the county's larger employers have had ride-sharing programs--using combinations of car pools, van pools and buses--for more than five years, a number of companies are either starting or expanding their ride-sharing programs. Very few of the companies surveyed said that adding a commuter lane to the Costa Mesa Freeway influenced their decision. Most cited parking problems at their location or the benefits of car-pooling for their employees.

The Hughes Aircraft plant in Fullerton employs 14,000 people and has only 7,000 parking spaces. About 3,000 Hughes employees share rides in one form or another, according to Craig Rogers, who heads the program. Thirty-five leased vans shuttle 500 employees from locations more than 20 miles from Fullerton. A private bus carries employees to work from the Riverside area. Three more OCTD buses also serve the plant. The program has grown in its five years, Rogers said, and was adding 10 vans a year to its fleet between 1981 and 1983.

Preferred Parking

"Pretty near all the vans I started here were difficult to get riders for initially," Rogers said. "I used to get on the phone and call them and then call them again."

Hughes offers preferred parking near the plant for employees in car pools of three or more people.

When Rogers began running the plant's ride-share program, there was a shortage of parking spaces. Although the company built additional space, Rogers credits the ride-share program with reducing the number of new spaces needed. "Parking spaces cost $1,000 apiece to build and for each space you can delay building or avoid building altogether, that's another $1,000 in your pocket," he said.

Edson uses the same argument when he compares the cost-effectiveness of ride sharing versus creating more freeways. "It costs $15 to $20 million for one mile of one-lane freeway," Edson said. "Our budget in 1984 was $650,000. We could do our program for 30 years for the price of putting in another mile of freeway."

Drawings Held

The Hughes plant in Irvine with 1,000 employees has taken a page out of Edson's marketing strategy, holding monthly drawings among its 200 ride-sharing employees for prizes ranging from radios to smoke alarms. One day each week, ride sharers receive a free meal ticket for the cafeteria, according to the plant's security chief, Allan Laux, who coordinates the giveaways. Losers in the monthly giveaways go into another box and become eligible for a television or VCR.

Bill Zahn, the plant's human resources manager, said the ride-sharing program prevented the company from having to build a $1.6-million parking structure at the plant.

"Also," Zahn said, "people get to be friends driving together and they seem to do their jobs better. The company benefits and our people benefit."

When the Automobile Club of Southern California opened its 1,200-employee facility in Costa Mesa in 1982, it embarked on what Jim Ortner, a transportation planner for the company, called "an aggressive ride-sharing campaign."

500 Participate

Ortner said 500 of the office's employees share rides and he credits the success of the program to pitching the idea to the employees before the new office opened and to the company's strong policy in favor of ride sharing.

Pacific Bell is also expanding its van-pool program and is considering offering preferred parking as an incentive to any of its 7,000 employees in the county who participate, according to a company spokesman.

Other companies, like Parker-Hannifin, partly subsidize the cost of their van pools. Parker-Hannifin pays for "close to half" of the cost of operating a van pool, according to Jay Johnson, who coordinates the program, and the company also allows employees' spouses to use the vans at a reduced rate if the spouse works within two to three miles of the company's Irvine office. Between 600 and 700 of the company's 3,400 Irvine employees ride-share. Johnson said he passed out brochures on the new commuter lane and credits the lane with adding several new ride sharers to his roster.

Fluor Corp. in Irvine has had a ride-sharing program for its employees since 1976. Of its 2,500 employees and 300 tenants, program director Sue Duss estimates, 560 employees share rides. The company owns 51 vans and offers a variety of incentives to van drivers and backup drivers.

Incentive Plan

If the van is used strictly for company purposes, then the driver and backup driver ride free. Or they can elect to pay a portion of the costs and receive 20 gallons of gas and 200 free miles for personal use. If the driver and backup driver pay the full cost, they receive 55 gallons and 550 miles for personal use. Van-pool rates at Fluor range from $48 a month to $96 a month, depending on mileage.

Paula Warren is just getting a ride-sharing program started for the 1,100 employees at Beckman Instruments in Fullerton. Four hundred employees are moving from Irvine to the Fullerton facility over the Christmas holiday and the company plans to inaugurate a 10-van pool after the first of the year.

"I did not expect this response," Warren said. "It looks like the vans might not be enough."

Edson, from Commuter Network, said: "There's a myth in our heads that Californians only drive alone. It's a myth because 50% of the people who go to Los Angeles don't go alone. If we can keep increasing the incentives by getting employers to increase their incentives, then we cut down the number of people on the freeways and increase the success of the whole system."

Company Ride-Sharing Programs

Beyond the 75,000 car pools in Orange county, officials estimate that there are 400 van pools carrying more than 4,000 people. Each year an additional 5,000 people join car pools in the county, and many of the county's larger employers have had successful ride-sharing programs for more than five years.

Hughes Aircraft, Fullerton

About 3,000 of the company's 14,000 employees share rides in one form or another, such as car pools, vans and company buses.

Hughes Aircraft, Irvine

Various incentives, such as monthly drawings for prizes, have induced 200 of the firm's 1,000 employees to participate in ride-sharing.

Automobile Club

About 500 of the organization's 1,200-employees in its Costa Mesa facility share rides to work.

Parker-Hannifin Between 600 and 700 of the company's 3,400 employees in Irvine share rides.

Fluor Corp.

Fluor Corp. in Irvine has had a ride-sharing program for its employees since 1976, and 560 of its 2,500 employees and 300 tenants share rides.

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