- The Charleston Regional Development Alliance (CRDA) spearheaded a campaign, Reboot the Commute, that encourages businesses to challenge employees to reduce traffic congestion, especially during peak travel times. So far 18 businesses including Boeing South Carolina, Booz Allen Hamilton and Google South Carolina have committed to participating in the campaign.
- CRDA created an online guide with ideas to help businesses determine the best way to implement the initiative. Ideas include greater transit use, carpooling and vanpooling, bike-share, telecommuting and staggering employee start times.
- "We looked at some other initiatives in other places and from what I can tell, this is unique," Stephen Warner, CRDA VP of Global Competitiveness, told Smart Cities Dive. "This is the CEOs of 18 companies stepping up and saying they're going to use resources to mitigate the challenge that is becoming both a community quality-of-life issue and a retention issue."
CRDA researched the region's commuting patterns and discovered that 81% of Charleston residents commuted via single-passenger vehicle trips. Charleston has had steady population growth over the last decade — approximately 2% per year for 10 years — which has contributed to congestion.
Several factors contribute to traffic congestion in Charleston and the surrounding counties, Warner told Smart Cities Dive. The coastal city is divided by two rivers. Improving roadway infrastructure often means creating or maintaining bridges, which are costly and time-consuming.
Warner says up until the last 15 to 20 years in many South Carolina communities people were dependent on cars, and transit and bike infrastructure had not been a priority throughout the state, resulting in a limited system. Although Charleston has invested more in transit in recent years, it remains car-centric.
Plus, Charleston's roots are in the military and manufacturing so much of the workforce commuted during very similar hours of the day. However, the region's growth has created more diversity within the economy — it's now home to more than 500 tech companies — which allows for different workday configurations such as telecommuting or staggered work days.
"If we can just get 4% of the people to change their behavior... we can completely clear a lane of traffic end-to-end and take about 6,000 to 7,000 cars off the road during peak rush hour," Warner said. "There's multiple ways for people to reduce the amount of cars on the road during peak rush hour... One size doesn't fit all. We have lots of different types of companies here, whether they're healthcare or manufacturing or hospitality or utilities."
The guide that CRDA devised essentially is a starter kit for companies that participate in the program. It includes multiple strategies for encouraging employees to change their single-occupant vehicle commutes.
The initiative complements Charleston's efforts to create bus rapid transit (BRT) service throughout the region. That's expected to come online in the next four years or so.
"We're trying to get people in the habit of changing their behavior now so when BRT opens up they're already considering different ways to get to and from work," Warner said.
Although the Reboot the Commute initiative initially met resistance, Warner says more companies and employees are getting on board. Many employees who have tried transit appreciate the extra time they have to do work or other tasks instead of driving, as well as the cost savings compared with driving.
And companies realized that this could be a solution for employee recruitment and retention. As the region has grown its cost of living has increased, and workers are seeking affordable housing farther from the city center, thus increasing their commutes. Companies' human resources and retention offices became vocal advocates for Reboot the Commute because they recognized that quality-of-life factors were driving away desirable employees.
"It really became part of the discussion about how we attract and retain the best employees," Warner said. "That became one of the driving forces behind it, above and beyond the overall good for the community and for the environment."
CRDA anticipates Reboot the Commute will be a three-year effort with regular check-ins on progress. It's now looking to advance the campaign by bringing on board more companies and funding opportunities.
"Just because it launched doesn't mean it's done," Warner said.