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26 vices within the county. One possibility is a voucher program The service area has a population of 573,000. MTA operates with a local pharmaceutical company that is the largest pri- 116 peak buses. Annual ridership across all services is 8.9 vate employer in the county. A new board member works at million (FY 2007). MTA uses the GFI Odyssey farebox. East Stroudsburg University and could renew discussions of a university pass program open to students, faculty, and staff. The MTA reported three employer-based fare programs under its commuter benefits program known as EasyRide. Factors Contributing to Success EasyRide has evolved into a flexible program in which employers can tailor benefits to their needs. Several factors have contributed to the success of the employer voucher program for the Tobyhanna Express: U-pass Program · A champion within the public employer. The board MTA worked with Vanderbilt University to develop a uni- member who worked at Tobyhanna had seniority in his versity pass (U-pass) program that targeted employees rather position and was able to work with upper management than students. This cooperative effort grew out of a rela- to expand the voucher program at Tobyhanna beyond tionship with an MTA board member. The university was carpools/vanpools to transit. interested because of serious parking issues. Vanderbilt had · Participation by the MCTA Board. The program began encouraged carpools and vanpools by providing preferen- as a board initiative and thus had its full support in tial parking, but not under a broader umbrella with transit negotiations and ongoing implementation. benefits. · Communication with riders. The board member who proposed the idea is a regular rider on the Tobyhanna The U-pass program uses existing employer identifica- Express. He serves an important role as a direct con- tion cards that have been tested for compatibility with MTA's duit regarding any problems or issues between MCTA fareboxes. MTA does issue EasyRide cards for its other pro- and express riders. grams, but Vanderbilt controls the cards. The benefits of this · Board diversification. MCTA notes the importance of arrangement are that MTA does not have to issue separate paying attention to how you diversify your board. If the fare cards for Vanderbilt employees and the university does Tobyhanna employee had not been recruited to be part of not have to share any personal data on its employees with the board, the program might not have happened. A new MTA. The university receives a single bill each month from board member from the university may play a similar role MTA based on a negotiated per swipe rate. in encouraging interest in a university pass program. The U-pass program has expanded to include Medical Lessons Learned Center employees, faculty, and graduate students. Under- graduate students quickly discovered that their ID cards also The Tobyhanna Express is an example of a successful employer worked in the fareboxes. However, because Vanderbilt pays voucher program with a federal agency at a small transit sys- on a per swipe basis, the university has closely analyzed usage tem. Clearly, employer pass programs can be successful at a and reports any unauthorized use to MTA, which can then variety of agencies, not just at larger transit systems. MCTA program its fareboxes not to accept an unauthorized ID. offers a primary recommendation to those seeking to repli- cate its success: Find a champion within the public employer. Monthly ridership in the U-pass program began at 14,000 As with many federal agencies, the Tobyhanna Army Depot in 2004. In 2008, ridership reached 56,000 in a month in is committed to reducing single-occupant automobile travel which gasoline prices were near their peak. to and from work, because it will reduce parking needs and simply because it is a good policy. Even with this commit- Vanderbilt is a private university, and so the U-pass pro- ment, a champion within the public employer was instrumen- gram is not a true example of a public employee pass pro- tal in converting this commitment to action, especially in a gram. By stepping up as a major employer in Nashville rural community such as Monroe County. willing to take the lead in establishing an employer-based fare program, Vanderbilt set an example that other public employers soon followed. MTA emphasizes the importance NASHVILLE METROPOLITAN of the U-pass program in generating interest among other TRANSPORTATION major employers, including the state and the city. AUTHORITY, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE State Employees The Nashville Metropolitan The second EasyRide program described by MTA is with the Transit Authority (MTA) provides public transportation ser- state of Tennessee. The state is the biggest employer in Nash- vices in the city of Nashville and surrounding communities. ville, with several state agencies housed in downtown, and
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27 the state had been providing an employee shuttle between swipe basis, not a per employee basis, and have a greater these offices and parking lots across downtown. State offi- incentive to control costs by controlling usage. Under this phi- cials read media reports about the Vanderbilt program, and losophy, card design is based on employer specifications. The asked how they could get a similar deal for their employees. state design features a striking photograph on the pass card. This interest led MTA to consider how to price the EasyRide Municipal Employees program. MTA mirrored the state program on the approach taken with Vanderbilt, realizing that the EasyRide program Once the state program was implemented, MTA found that needed to be flexible because each employer is different. MTA other public-sector employees requested a similar program. sets prices based on proximity to transit, origindestination Metropolitan Nashville government (the municipal govern- patterns, and transfer rates. Higher prices are associated with ment in Nashville) put a small amount of money aside to greater proximity, more origindestination patterns that can fund a program of some type. be served by transit, and lower transfer rates. The state legis- lature provided a sizable sum to pay for the program. The first step with Metro Nashville was to establish a pre- tax program under which Metro Nashville employees pur- Transit was generally a convenient option for state employ- chased an EasyRide 31-day card. Other municipal employees ees, because most state agencies are located downtown and became aware of this (the employees are the major impetus the primary hub for MTA's route network is downtown, with for this program) and again wanted cards similar to what they few transfers required. As a free benefit for participating in knew was available to Vanderbilt and the state. The Metro the EasyRide program, MTA maps employee residences by Council set aside $50,000 to fund an EasyRide program for zip code, which enables the employer to estimate participa- General Service employees (GSE) only, at which point MTA tion levels for employer budgeting. moved to the broader EasyRide program for these employ- ees. Other municipal employees with the airport, hospital As with Vanderbilt, the state receives a single monthly and housing authorities, and Metro Nashville schools are not bill from MTA based on the negotiated per swipe rate. A in the category of GSE and thus are not eligible. As did the major difference is that MTA issues EasyRide cards for all state, the Metro Council limited the use of EasyRide solely state employees. The state is responsible for distribution. In for work commutes. the event of a lost card, MTA will produce a new card on its existing production schedule (generally within 1 week MTA issues the EasyRide cards for GSE employees. Part of receipt). Cards for newly hired employees also are pro- of the challenge in the Metro Nashville program is that city duced on this schedule. MTA will bill $10 to replace a lost employment sites are less centralized. card. An employee who leaves the state turns in his or her EasyRide pass before leaving employment of the state. The The Metro Council has set aside $75,000 for the EasyRide cards expire in 999 days (related to farebox technology), but program in the upcoming year. The non-GSE employees at it takes only a second to reprogram an expired card. "cousin" agencies are now coming to the table to develop their own programs. MTA is in various stages of enrolling The state's Department of General Services (DGS) is or working to enroll these employees. MTA and the hospital MTA's point of contact. DGS enters the data on state employ- authority have a signed a memorandum of understanding, ees and sends it to MTA. MTA prints and tests the EasyRide but a $3 million cut in the hospital authority's budget put the passes. DGS then distributes the passes through individual memorandum on hold. departments to the employees. DGS added one staff person to oversee the program and analyze monthly reports. An individual employer not in the EasyRide program can purchase individual passes and take advantage of pre- Through its fareboxes, MTA obtains and provides data tax benefits. MTA prints and issues Mobility Checks, which on employee use of the program to employers. Employers serve as transit currency within the Nashville region. With differ in their interest in analyzing employee use. The state the recent increase in the federal cap to $230 per month, even of Tennessee established this program for work commute the most expensive pass on the commuter rail system now trips only, not for general use. Thus, the state monitors the falls within the cap. details of employee use and calls in employees who ride dur- ing noncommute times to clarify the program's intent. The Factors Contributing to Success state warns the employee the first time, but repeat offenders can lose their passes. The following factors have contributed to the success of the MTA EasyRide program: This is an example of MTA's guiding philosophy for the EasyRide program: the employers decide the details, includ- · Role of the media. Several well-placed stories cre- ing how employees can use the pass. Employers pay on a per ated a buzz and led to other employers calling MTA.