What happens when you pay employees not to park?

Published: 09/30/2019 - 10:39
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hospital parking

Long commutes. Congested roads. No available parking. These are familiar headaches for staff, patients, and administration at almost every hospital and health care facility, including St. John’s Medical and Living Center in Jackson, Wyo. A parking space there costs $10,000 per year to manage and maintain.  Instead of building additional parking spaces, the hospital chose instead to pay their employees to “liberate their parking space” from May through September 2018.

“We set a goal to reduce the employee drive-alone rate 3% over the summer months,” explains Lisa Smith, the facility's nutritional services and sustainability coordinator. Following the guidance in Practice Greenhealth’s transportation resources, Smith found an administrative champion, Thom Kinney, chief human resources officer. Together, they brought the business case to the executive team and convinced them to pay employees $5 per day not to use a parking space during the seasonal campaign.

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The facility kept the program simple. A pre-campaign survey returned by 40% of hospital employees identified a 60% drive-alone rate and solicited suggestions to support alternative transit modes including carpooling, taking the bus, biking and walking. In addition to providing subsidized transit passes to employees, the hospital worked with the regional transit authority to add additional bus routes to outlying communities. The program built on the organization’s values of trust and collaboration. Employees tracked and reported the number of days they did not drive alone to work. 

The program was a huge success. Not only did they reduce their drive-alone rate over the summer to 42%, but patients were able to easily find available parking, leadership was happy, and employees were thrilled.

“This is amazing!” one simply exclaimed.

“These are totally the things that increase employee happiness,” another added.

“I used my transportation money to buy a (national) park pass,” an employee remarked.

Several employees used the opportunity to start bike commuting.

“How fun is that! I need to get my bike tires pumped up.” 

“I dusted off my bike for the first time in years.”

St. John’s Medical Center is offering the program again in 2019. They shared their success story at CleanMed 2019, and with city and county officials, municipal agencies, and other major employers in the region who are considering similar employee commute programs in the future. 

“We see so many benefits beyond just the financial savings – building relationships with coworkers in a carpool, the physical activity of riding a bike or walking, the reduced stress of not just sitting in traffic – it’s a no-brainer to me,” says Kinney, “sometimes you just need that little nudge of an incentive to get started, but my hope is that many employees form habits that continue long beyond this promotion.”

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