Maintaining a strong regional workforce involves so many complex challenges that it’s easy to overlook one basic yet all-too-common obstacle to steady employment: reliable transportation to and from work.
For many employers, the key to attracting and retaining skilled workers could be as simple as installing sidewalks or providing bus-fare reimbursement. That’s the rationale behind Transit Friendly Destinations (TFD), a program introduced by the Green Umbrella Regional Sustainability Alliance
in partnership with Skyward
, Agenda 360
and transit authorities on both sides of the river.
At an Oct. 16 news conference announcing the initiative, TFD organizers described a system whereby NKY businesses can score points for efforts to integrate transit into their organizational culture. The points add up to favorable ratings that program supporters believe will also help attract new business and better employees.
What makes a place transit friendly?
Green Umbrella defines a transit friendly destination as “a corporation, organization, institution, association, government agency, park or nonprofit that actively promotes transit ridership for employees, customers and guests.”
Organizers took a cue from Queen City Bike
’s highly successful bike-friendliness campaign in creating the official TFD scorecard, which grants points for existing infrastructural features — such as proximity to transit stops and sidewalk accessibility — as well as more general “encouragement” measures that include:
- Designated areas to display transit brochures and schedules
- Transit information via employee portals
- Annual employee commuter needs assessment
- Onsite Metro/TANK information sessions
- Transit and parking subsidies for employees
- Pre-tax transit payroll deductions
By awarding participating organizations with diamond-, gold-, silver- and bronze-level status, the program hopes to create a cultural shift in the way area businesses prioritize public transportation.
“We’ve been encouraged by the ways we see transit becoming part of the conversation around economic development in Northern Kentucky,” says Skyward Vice President Kristine Frech. “Tri-ED has done a great job bringing this issue to the table, and we think the TFD program can provide a means of applauding businesses that are taking steps to join the conversation.”
Helping NKY business avoid ‘missing out’
Lack of awareness is one immediate hurtle to the program’s success, organizers say.
“Lots of business owners aren’t aware of the resources that are already in place and how providing better access could help their business grow,” says Lesley Holgate, Marketing Manager for Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky
(TANK). “It’s our job to help them understand what they’re missing out on.”
TANK currently provides transit services in 35 NKY cities as well as the commuter-focused Airport Express
and Southbank Shuttle
, which offer discounted fares to CVG International Airport and downtown Cincinnati, respectively.
The recent addition of east-west Route 35 reflects a national shift from the traditional hub-and-spoke model. Meanwhile, institutional partnerships — like those TANK is piloting with Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights and eBay’s regional headquarters in Richwood — give institutions an opportunity to meet their constituents’ basic transportation needs with relatively little out-of-pocket expense.
“The needs of riders are changing along with the changes we see happening in Northern Kentucky,” Holgate says. “Ten years ago there wasn’t as much need for access to Hebron and other outlying areas as there is today.”
NKU, Fifth Third Bank, Citigroup and Skyward itself are among the 10 Northern Kentucky businesses that have achieved TFD certification to date.
Citigroup's Niki Clare
Citigroup’s call center in Florence employs 2,600 and has worked with TANK to coordinate bus route schedules to coincide with shift changes and offered payroll deduction for employees’ transit passes.
“Citi is proud and honored to be recognized as an inaugural Transit Friendly Destination,” says Niki Clare, Vice President for Public Affairs at Citigroup. “We understand that providing access to public transportation is a workforce imperative for not only our company, but our community. For years, Citi has been working hand in hand with TANK to help ensure our employees have public transit options.”
Commuting to a better life
“When we talk about increasing ridership, we’re really talking about improving the quality of life,” Holgate says, citing TANK’s recent efforts to elevate NKY’s transportation profile.
She contends that improved public transportation has the potential to positively impact much more than the jobs sector.
“What great city doesn’t have a viable public transportation system?” Holgate asks. “Residential access allows people to do much more across the region, which means fewer single-occupancy vehicles on the road and huge monthly savings for families and urban professionals. They’re free then to spend that money elsewhere.”