Commuters High on Public Transportation

November 12, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Forget carpooling. If you want employees to feel more relaxed and believe they are having a positive impact on the environment while exercising their mind and body, tell them to take the bus.

A vast majority of respondents to WageWorksCenter for Commuter Studies’ survey said they use their commuting time for simple past times such as catching up on reading a newspaper or book (89%) or just relaxing (49%). Additionally, those who take public transportation are more likely to get 30 minutes of exercise three times a week (22%) than people who have never taken public transportation (15%), the study of the nation’s top five transportation hubs – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC – revealed.

Average commute time of respondents overall was 46 minutes a day with those respondents who use public transportation averaging 51 minutes per day. “For many people, how they commute has a real impact on their quality of life,” said Laura Wheeler of the WageWorks Center for Commuter Studies. “Many believe their lives are actually enhanced by their method of commuting, and are finding that they can use this time to squeeze in small amounts of quality moments that otherwise would be lost.”

Even when given the option of dealing with a car – undertaken by 53% of those polled – nearly identical numbers say a subway train or bus is the ideal mode of transportation to work (30% versus 34% preferring the car). Additionally, roughly a quarter (24%) thinks walking to work is ideal.

Positive Experience

Not surprising then, respondents are generally positive about the public transportation experience, with 59% rating their local public transportation as either “excellent” or “good.” In terms of convenience, respondents also gave positive scores averaging between 1 and 1.5, with zero as “very easy” and 4 as “very difficult.” Further, more than half (54%) fell that taking public transportation helped to reduce pollution, making them feel better about what they are doing for their urban and physical environment.

The results though varied by specific areas. Chicagoans rank their commute the highest in terms of ease of commute, with more than six out of 10 (63%) agreeing that their commute was “easy.” Similarly, San Franciscans are the least likely to have witnessed any problematic behavior while commuting, with only 6% reporting any commuting tribulation.

That is not say the metropolitan areas are problem free. Eight out of 10 New Yorkers say they want cleaner stations and trains.

Commuter Savvy

The average public transportation user was also found to be savvy to the total costs of getting to work versus those that take a car. Eighty-six percent of public transportation users have calculated how much it costs them to commute versus 33% of people who have never taken public transportation. Additionally, of the 28% of respondents who participate in an employer-sponsored commuting program, slightly more than half (55%) are taking advantage of pre-tax benefit programs, while 36% receive a subsidy for using public transportation or a vanpool.

Not surprisingly, those respondents that were most satisfied with their employer-sponsored commuter program also felt they saved the most money per month ($82), with all respondents averaging monthly savings of $60. These numbers though meant little in Los Angeles, where the average cost of getting to work cost almost $10 more per month than the national average ($101 versus $93), representing the transportation center with the highest costs.

Dan Corbett, vice president of transportation development at WageWorks, though, found employees can do more to maximize their take home pay through employer sponsored pre-tax commuter benefit programs. “According to our data, 17% of employers offer commuter benefit programs and enrolling in these employer-sponsored programs can help save consumers up to 40% on commuting costs they are already paying for, and help to maximize their take-home pay,” Corbett said.

This survey was released in conjunction with the official launch of the WageWorks Center for Commuter Studies. The survey is available on the Center’s Web site at www.commuterstudies.com .

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