With congestion on our roads growing as King County continues to grow, the Employee Transportation Program (ETP) is helping employees save money and time while reducing our impact on the environment with benefits including free rides on all regional buses, Sounder trains, Link light rail, Seattle Streetcar and the West Seattle and Vashon Island Water Taxis.
But the benefits don’t stop there.
“We aim to make it as easy as possible for our employees to leave their cars at home,” Hossein Barahimi said. As ETP Manager, Barahimi is in charge of developing new partnerships and programs for employees, all with the aim of reducing the number of people who are driving on their own. Barahimi develops partnerships with Employee Health and Well-Being, Department of Natural Resources and Parks, Metro Sustainability Program and others to create programs that allow employees to make healthy choices, cut the cost of travel, reduce gas consumption and help the environment.
When an employee takes the bus, walks or bikes to work, they not only reduce their costs, but also improve their health, Barahimi said. “We are trying to accomplish as many goals as we can in one effort.”
Since not all King County employees have access to the regional transit network, ETP has programs to help them also. Employees who work outside downtown Seattle and bike, walk or carpool, receive $20 a month incentive in the form of a gift card to REI or gas card. Additionally, employees who vanpool receive $45 per month to offset the cost of their vanpool. ETP also has partnerships with Car2Go, Zipcar and Pronto! Cycle Share. They offer King County Employees exclusive free or discounted membership.
And for employees who strive to leave their car at home ETP has them covered during emergencies.
“If you unexpectedly have to leave work early“such as you get a call that your child is sick and you need to pick them up, we’ll call you a taxi and pay for the fare,” Barahimi said.
While King County is mandated by the state to supply transportation alternatives for employees, ETP has taken it a step further. Barahimi is always looking for new partners in different cities and with different departments. The goal is to provide as many commute options as possible for employees to choose from, as one option may work for some employees but not others, he said.
Beyond ETP encouraging employees to be active by biking and walking to work, and helping reduce carbon emissions, Barahimi also looks for opportunities to expand bike racks and lockers for employees. After receiving complaints from employees who wanted to park their bikes at King Street Center (KSC) and were unable to because the bike room was full, Barahimi found an empty storage room in the building. In partnership with other departments, he converted the storage room into a new bike room, increasing bike parking capacity by 47 spaces and lockers by 42 in KSC. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the month. He also is working with the City of Seattle to install bike racks in the Columbia Public Health building to accommodate employees who ride their bikes to work. City of Seattle owns this building.
Unlike other employers, King County allows employees to use their ID/ORCA card beyond commuting to work.
“We encourage our employees to use their ID/ORCA card for any trip they want, work or not,” Barahimi said.
King County’s ETP has won several awards for developing an excellent program and making significant efforts in reducing County employees’ drive-alone rate. In 2013, King County received the Diamond Award from the state of Washington. Already this year ETP has received four awards from the City of Seattle. As a result of its efforts, the County’s employee transit ridership increased by 9% from 2014 to 2015 said Barahimi. Currently, there are about 6,000 to 7,000 employees using transit, 200 to 300 using VanPool, and 400 to 500 using some form of carpool, biking or walking to work.
Barahimi hopes that all employees will take advantage of the ETP. He hopes to be able to introduce the program at orientations for new employees in the future, and encourage them to create a habit of leaving their car behind and making the choice to walk, bike, carpool or bus to work instead.