It makes commercial sense to wean employees off car travel.
Road congestion in urban areas ranges from awful to horrendous. But however they travel to work - by car, bus, train, bike or on foot - employees get there somehow. Should companies care what means they use?
Yes, they should, according to Lancashire County Council. The council recently published a report on 'travel management', which urges businesses to examine current travel patterns and explore ways of minimising car usage. 'It's not that we are trying to turn people into eco-warriors,' insists council officer Howerd Booth. 'Businesses want greater efficiency and cost savings.' Quite apart from poisoning the atmosphere, avoidable use of cars is adding to costs, both indirectly - through delays and reduced performance brought about by stress - and directly.
Where companies make parking facilities available on site, possibly relieving employees of the nightmare of parking on the street, costs can mount alarmingly. Surfaced, drained and lit, space for a single vehicle in Boots the Chemist's car park at Beeston, Nottingham costs £600-800 to provide. For the sake of comparison, a rack capable of holding 60-70 bicycles costs around £7,500. There are 3,800 parking spaces on the Beeston site (and with two access points, 'rush hour is grim,' confirms facilities administration manager Ian Christie), nevertheless some 4,300 employees arrive by car. The company has a computerised car-share scheme with 600 people enrolled and 200 matched. 'It is very effective,' says Christie, but it could be much more so. 'If we can double the number of staff signed up, we can probably quadruple the number matched.'
A further 1,300 of the 6,200-strong workforce come by bus - the rest either cycle or walk. The site has 61 buses a day and the company subsidises the bus service to the tune of £250,000 a year. Staff still pay a fare: otherwise, says Christie, they will be taxed on a benefit-in-kind. Given the traffic, a car is not much quicker, and the company is making a sustained effort to persuade them to use alternative forms of transport. 'If staff stop coming by car - and they need a pass in order to park on-site - we give them either a six-month free bus passor a free bicycle.'
Southampton General Hospital has adopted a similar solution. The car park can take up to 3,000 cars but, in order to leave space for patients and visitors, staff who live within a mile of the hospital are forbidden to use it. Others, too, are discouraged. 'Street parking is limited and parking tickets are £35,' observes a spokesman. If staff give up their car park permits for two years, they get a £50 handout towards the cost of a bike or associated equipment - or a month's free park-and-ride.
Up in Liverpool, Waverley Technology Park is three miles from the city centre and was difficult to reach when first opened. 'Companies encouraged staff to get a car, and some offered loans,' recalls estates manager John Pugh. Not any longer. There are now too many cars causing congestion, although the bus route is a showpiece for Merseytravel. 'We try to promote car share but it's slow going,' admits John Shea of Barclays Bank, which has three call centres at Waverley and 300 shift workers on site at any one time. 'I'd be delighted to know how we can encourage more people to cut down on car use.'
It's not easy to wean people away from their cars. But a lot of undertakings are clearly trying, and for good commercial reasons.