Commuter incentive program continues to grow
A state-sponsored online program that links commuters to find travel companions and offers rewards for carpooling, vanpooling, bicycling or riding the train to work has gained more than 1,000 new members this year and eliminated almost 160,000 vehicle trips from state roads.
Nu-Ride, a ride-sharing Web site, enrolled 1,463 new members since January, bringing the total number of commuters taking part to 9,744 since the incentive program began in 2006, according to Nu-Ride statistics.
Those joining the group must be affiliated with a business or organization.
MetroPool, a state-funded company that promotes commuting alternatives for state workers, promotes the program statewide.
The program is looking to expand the pool of businesses sponsoring rewards to members, Lisa Sattler Biesak, a spokesman for Nu-Ride said.
Commuters using mass transit and carpools to travel to work tally up the miles they travel and report them on the Nu-Ride Web site. They are rewarded with coupons and gift certificates based on the total mileage.
The site also allows members can also search for carpool partners based on their personal preferences, and to block potential travel companions who have proven unsuitable from contacting them again.
From May 2008 to May 2009 in Connecticut, 3,098 new commuters and 304 new businesses joined the program, an expansion triggered when gas prices climbed last summer to $4.50 a gallon or more, said John Lyons, president of Metro Pool.
"We didn't see the growth we saw last summer but a lot of people stayed with it," Lyons said. "Unemployment in general also brings down numbers a bit and we haven't seen the type of rise in gas prices that would spur that type of growth."
At Pitney Bowes in Stamford, the company has signed up 127 NuRide members since the program's inception, about 35 in the past year and a half, said Melissa Lukas, a benefit analyst who oversees the company's transportation initiatives for employees.
Many workers using the program travel from areas not directly served by Metro-North Railroad, and view carpooling as a way to save money on their transportation costs, she said. In the past year, employees have cut 1,836 vehicle trips from their commutes, Lukas said.
"I think for people using NuRide, the train is perhaps not the most convenient method to get to work," Lukas said. "The great thing about the program is that it allows you to find people who are traveling to the same general area."
Incentives are a potential way to encourage rail commuters to carpool to their local station, and could be a management tool for a limited supply of permitted parking spaces at and around Metro-North New Haven Line stations, said Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council.
The Commuter Rail Parking Task Force, a group of rail advocates and commuters convened by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, is considering using similar incentives such as establishing dedicated spaces closest to the station for carpoolers to encourage commuters to travel together.
Cameron said while moderate gasoline prices have limited growth of the NuRide program, interest in carpooling and mass transit will begin to build again when prices climb.
"I think it is a great idea," Cameron said. "You don't necessarily have to be someone who drives from Fairfield to Stamford to take advantage of NuRide. You can carpool to the train station."