Twenty years ago at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Larry Filler came up a plan to entice companies and workers into using more mass transit. He thought he was simply fighting traffic congestion.
But over the years, the 1987 program -- where companies subsidize employee use of mass transit in exchange for tax breaks -- proved to be an effective tool in cutting carbon emissions. Today, some 11,000 companies and half a million employees use the TransitChek program, which now operates on a national level and has spawned competitors, while TransitCenter is now a stand alone, non-profit group.
With the green mentality growing in Corporate America, corporate membership in commuter benefit programs is up 57% in the past year alone. A recent survey found that 84% of US companies said they are concerned about the environment and global warming and about two-thirds of them have developed Green initiatives.. A separate 2007 study by the American Pubic Transportation Association found that mass transit currently saves about 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline a year.
Twenty years ago did you think it would turn out this way?
I don’t think any of us understood at that time how serious a problem CC (climate change) is and the things we need to look at to reduce emissions.
To what extent was the program environmentally motivated at its inception?
We were thinking very broadly. Our mission was to reduce traffic congestion, to save energy and address environmental issues. Our surveys over the years show that our initial purpose is being addressed but we found benefits beyond congestion, such as reducing omissions.
To what extent is helping the environment a selling point?
In the early years, we found companies weren’t as in tune to that issue as they were the tax savings. One of the things we’ve found now is that the awareness of the connection between the congestion and the environment has increased.
What do your surveys of users show about the green mentality?
The big surprise for us this year was when we started asking questions about global warming and how employers see the issue of global warming as one that has risen to a significant concern. The global warming issue has become second to high gasoline prices. I think there is a trend here in there being a very strong connection between concern about climatic change and commuter-benefits.
Is that sentiment sincere or more of a bottom-line decision?
I think they are sincere, for a lot of reasons. Certainly bottom line decisions drive a lot of the concerns. We get a sense from our companies that they also have a social responsibility. They don’t want to be seen as a part of a problem people suffer from
Is there a true connection for people about climate change?
There are two things that are going on. There’s a growing awareness that there is a problem but people don’t quite understand what it means to them on a local basis. They’ve seen intense storms, very unusual weather on occasion, but sometimes it is not always clear what it means to them in their own area and what it mean over the next 20 years.