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The Skytrain travels underneath Vancity Credit Union headquarters in Vancouver. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)
The Skytrain travels underneath Vancity Credit Union headquarters in Vancouver. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)

Transportation

Top employers take the sting out of the dreaded commute Add to ...

For many Canadians, the trek to and from work can be a long, arduous part of the day. Increasingly, forward-thinking organizations are helping employees find a kinder, gentler way to get to the office.

Through transit subsidies, carpooling and cycling, organizations are saving employees time and money.

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Located in a building atop Vancouver’s SkyTrain rapid transit system, Vancity Credit Union offers employees subsidized transit fares, discounted and preferential parking for carpool vehicles, secure bicycle parking facilities and showers and lockers for employees who opt to cycle to work.

These incentives appear to be working: The company’s 2011 transportation survey found that 63 per cent of Vancity employees commute to work using alternative transportation, compared with 33 per cent in Metro Vancouver at large.

Providing convenient alternative transportation options is in line with Vancity’s corporate values, says Mandy Whiting, Vancity acting vice-president of human resources, and proves to staff that the company “walks the talk.”

Desjardins Financial Services is another leader in promoting alternative transportation, with a carpool sign-up system, discounts on the self-serve BIXI bike-share program and showers and change rooms for its bicycle commuters. Pascale Laliberté, development consultant and program manager for alternative transportation, says Desjardins is striving not only to save employees money, but also to effect change in their communities.

“In Montreal, we have almost 70 per cent of employees taking transit, walking or biking, and in Toronto almost 60 per cent. But in Lévis [Que., where the company’s head office is located,] it’s the opposite, 70 per cent take their car to go to work,” he said. By encouraging employees to bus it, says Mr. Laliberté, the company hopes to have a positive impact on the infrastructure in Lévis.

“We are the biggest private employer in Quebec, and I think we have lots of leverage to change something there.”

A commitment to minimize the commute is shared by many of the companies on the Top Employers list.

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto has partnered with the “Smart Commute” carpooling website to help employees find people to ride with, and offers a shuttle service between its three campuses. Union Gas in Chatham, Ont., launched a 12-month pilot “vanpool” program for employees, supplying a new Ford Flex for seven employees to commute 150 kilometres between Windsor and Chatham.

“If there are ways [employees] can save money and have lower insurance rates because they’re not having to drive their car to work, we try to encourage that,” said Rod O’Connell, strategist for talent acquisition and retention for the Vancouver Island Health Authority. VIHA offers on-site shower facilities for bicycle commuters, a carpool sign-up system and discounted transit passes that can be purchased directly through payroll.

The Certified General Accountants Association of Canada encourages transit-taking and carpooling employees by reimbursing them 50 per cent of their transportation costs, as well as offering a unique program that gives staff the chance to take a bike for a spin – gratis.

“It’s like a library – you would sign out a book, instead you sign out a bike,” said Baldev Gill, vice-president of finance and human resources for the CGA-Canada. The organization has a fleet of eight bikes at their Burnaby, B.C., location, available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“And what we’ve found is a lot of our employees use the bike not necessarily commuting to and from home, but actually commuting during their breaks. If they want to go out for lunch, off they go, and it works out really well. … They use it for exercise.”

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