Clogged roads make for long commutes and slow down business too. Photo by Emily Calkins.

Getting from here to there is a growing problem. And, it’s negatively impacting business.

Roadways are clogged and rush hour now has added an ‘s’ as commutes to and from work get longer on the way in and on the way home.

Commutes in our area are some of the longest in the United States. As frustration grows, county government is looking for solutions.

At the BWI Business Partnership’s most recent Transportation Think Tank (T3) meeting, Ramond Robinson, the Anne Arundel County director of transportation, discussed efforts to reduce commute times and offer greater efficiencies for workers and businesses, while creating a cleaner, safer environment.

Robinson said jurisdictions around the region are working to create a multi-regional program, Commuter Connections, which is “like a clearinghouse where commuters can identify a variety of options.”

The Idea

Commuter Connections, a regional network of transportation organizations coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCG), is designed to improve commutes using alternative methods of transportation like transit, carpooling and vanpooling, hiking, biking and walking, with a guaranteed ride home program in case of emergency.

“We call it a smarter way to work,” Robinson said, noting that technology and apps can help solve issues on the fly.

The idea behind making connections is simple, according to Robinson, who used vanpooling as an example.

“Let’s say we have several neighbors who work in the same place and we get a seven-seat van. [Those commuters] would pay for a seat based on the total cost to rent the van, which could be [approximately] $500 a month, and less with a government subsidy,” Robinson said. “The more people on board, the less the cost is for each. And the group can go to the Commuter Connection website to find additional riders.”

Vanpooling can reduce traffic congestion mitigation. “Instead of seven people driving individual cars, you have one unit, the van,” he said.

He said, multi-modal transportation options provide financial and environmental benefits. “It all layers together so commuters have options that work in tandem to solve a problem in a safe, reliable fashion.”

Poolin’ It

To get the word out about its service, Commuter Connections engages transportation demand managers (TDMs) and transportation management agencies, like the BWI Business Partnership.

Private businesses are part of the mix, too, including Linthicum-based Commute With Enterprise, a division of the rental car company.

Enterprise Branch Manager Amber Frame said the challenge is ensuring that commuters are aware of their options, such as vanpooling.

“People like the idea, especially with the numerous government locations in the area because they get a subsidy of up to $265 per month,” said Frame. “In addition, private companies are offered free payroll tax deductions.”

The vans run between Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County with a minimum of four riders per van.

She said the Commute With Enterprise fleet consists of 120 vans – 110 of which are rented by government employers, including about 35 at Fort Meade – that are on the road in the Baltimore-Washington Corridor and beyond.

“We have customers from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia,” Frame said.

To illustrate the scope of the needs, “One local private employer could have easily leased 15 vans,” she said, adding, “We don’t have a limit to the number of vans that we lease, given the size of our corporation.”

In Howard

Like Anne Arundel, Howard County gets funding from the state and pays the MWCG for access to its database to promote TDM.

Allison Calkins, TDM specialist for the Howard County office of transportation, said the program is being rebranded as Go Howard, “because we want people to not just think about their commute but their overall transportation. With the growth of Downtown Columbia, obviously people will commute in, but they don’t necessarily have to get into their vehicle to go to lunch. They can try a bike share, for instance.”

Calkins works with employers and residents in Howard “to promote carpooling with ride matching services, notably Commuter Connections, which allows commuters to input their schedules and ride match in the region.”

The county also offers a guaranteed ride home program for those who use alternative methods of transportation at least twice a week. “That equates to four guaranteed rides home per year,” she said, “usually via cab or bus.”

Plan Part

Anne Arundel County is rebranding to “Move Anne Arundel.”

The County Council plan includes performance metrics to improve overall travel system reliability, reduce fatalities and injuries, improve water quality, increase ride sharing in high traffic areas and maintain county-owned transportation assets in good condition.

“Its performance measures are resolute. Everyone is holding everyone accountable from legislators to businesses to citizens,” Robinson said.

“Any transportation [option] that can get cars off of the road, the better we are,” he said. “The goal is to figure out how to share a ride. The more opportunities presented, the less vehicle miles will be travelled, which contributes to better air quality.”

Noting that ride sharing will also reduce the probability of accidents, Robinson said. “If people see Move Anne Arundel can work for them, they are apt to keep using it.”