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30 Years of CTR: How Far We’ve Come, and What’s Next

by | Mar 29, 2022 | Commute Trip Reduction, News

The Washington State Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) law turned 30 last year! We couldn’t throw a party for global reasons, so instead, we’re sharing out all the progress in the CTR program and what’s coming next.

Happy 30th Birthday, CTR!

The Washington State Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) law turned 30 last year! We couldn’t throw a party for global reasons, so instead, we’re sharing out all the progress in the CTR program and what’s coming next! 

We are lucky to have CTR in our state as it is a nationally recognized transportation demand management (TDM) program. Over the past 20 years, the state and in particular the City of Seattle have seen massive development and investment in transit and other infrastructure!  

Seattle has experienced tremendous growth over the past decade. Since 2010, the city has added more than 150,000 new residents, nearly 160,000 new jobs, and seen more than 65,000 new housing units constructed. Amid this growth, Seattle has continued progressing towards a more sustainable transportation system—emissions from passenger vehicles decreased 4.3% from 2008 to 2018. 

Along with those physical investments, the City of Seattle has worked with the private sector to meet and go beyond the requirements of the state CTR program to support a shift away from single-occupancy vehicle trips has shaped significant changes in travel behavior.  The 2019-2023 CTR Strategic Plan set the most ambitious and comprehensive goals yet for the program, and a recent 2019/2020 CTR Performance Update provides key insights on the current accomplishments and future challenges of the program. 

 CTR centers how important it is that we not just build, but also employ tools that help people access services and opportunities. People need incentives to help them try something for the first time, and ongoing subsidies to afford the transportation system our region builds. With your efforts, people are able to access economic opportunities that build generations of wealth.

What are CTR companies doing?

CTR companies have continuously strengthened the CTR program and supported transit trips by investing in transit pass programs. The Seattle region is fortunate to have ORCA Business Programs which provide flexibility for commuters riding Community Transit, Everett Transit, Kitsap Transit, King County Metro Transit, Pierce Transit, and Sound Transit. This unique product allows for 75% of CTR businesses to offer transit passes and nearly 90% of their employees to take advantage of this cost-saving benefit.

Additionally, CTR companies are making investments in their overall programs. According to data reported by employee transportation coordinators (ETCs) in the 2020 Program Reports, CTR employers invested a total of $90,850,469 into their individual CTR programs (including Employee Transportation Coordinator (ETC) staff time, materials, financial incentives and subsidies, facilities, and other costs). 

As illustrated in Figure 12 below, 31% of CTR sites offer a multimodal subsidy and 11% offer a drive-alone subsidy. The 2019/2020 report found that the average DAR was 26.5% at those sites that offer a multimodal subsidy, while the average DAR jumped up to 36.8% at those sites that offer a drive-alone subsidy. The report goes on to note that “eliminating subsidies for employees who drive-alone may be a critical strategy to reduce the DAR at CTR sites, as opposed to just offering multimodal subsidies in addition to drive-alone subsidies.”

Program & Seattle Growth

It is no secret to the Commute Seattle team that the CTR program has grown throughout the years. Since 2010, the number of jobs in Seattle increased by 34%, while the total number of employees at CTR sites increased by 57%, reaching an estimated 226,621 employees in 2019/2020. 

The South Lake Union (SLU) and Uptown neighborhood groups or “networks” have been absorbing a great deal of this growth while keeping their per-employee greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) low, as seen in figure 10.

Conversely, the SLU / Uptown network has the highest absolute GHG emissions in the city as seen in Figure 9. The total emissions of this area is very similar to that of South Seattle – yet South Seattle neighborhoods have far fewer employees, emphasizing the very different travel patterns in these geographic areas. As a result, South Seattle as a neighborhood group has been a focus area for TDM programming and innovation over the past several years and will continue to be in the future. The CTR program set targets based on a model that estimated realistic change in each neighborhood, and as a result the anticipated shift in travel behavior in, South Seattle is understandably different from what is forecast in, for example, Downtown or University District.  Given land use and infrastructure context, past, and future, there are challenges and opportunities for supporting sustainable transportation choices across different areas of the city. 

Sustainable Mode Split Trends

Seattleites surveyed in the CTR commuter survey have trended towards more sustainable modes year over year. 

Transit – The share of workers using transit peaked in 2009/2010 at 41.6%; however, the total number of weekly transit trips CTR employees make has risen significantly. CTR employees made more than twice as many weekly transit trips in 2019/2020 (366,484) as they did in 2007/2008 (181,864). 

Biking – Bicycling has also grown with 3.5% of CTR employees biking to work in 2019/2020 vs. 2.7% in 2007/2008.

Walking – Most notably, the share of employees who walk to work has more than doubled from 3.6% in 2007/2008 to 8.8% in 2019/2020.

Telework – The share of workers telecommuting has also more than doubled, growing from 3.0% in 2007/2008 to 6.4% in 2019/2020. This trend is likely to continue due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the anticipated growth of telecommuting and hybrid work schedules. 

Carpool/Rideshare – Vanpool, employer shuttles, and ridesharing did not see an increase in this year’s performance update. However, it is worth noting that the share of CTR employees reporting ‘Other’ as their mode of transportation has increased significantly (from 2.2% in 2007/2008 to 4.1% in 2019/2020). According to a sample analysis provided by WSDOT for 2017/2018, the largest modes within the Other category are likely employer shuttles and transportation network companies (e.g., Uber and Lyft).

Pandemic Impacts

The shift in travel patterns and working models caused by the pandemic could have a range of impacts—both positive and negative—on the CTR program. Data from the 2021 Center City Mode Split survey shows that CTR-affected employees have continued to make far fewer physical commute trips than before the pandemic as they generally have more remote work options available to them. On the positive side, if workers who previously drove to the office shift to telecommuting (either full- or part-time) this could lead to a decrease in drive-alone rate (DAR), vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. One quarter of Downtown commuters are working exclusively remote, and another 1-in-5 do so 3 or more days a week. However, if workers who previously commuted by a non-driving means switch to a hybrid work model where they work from home 2-3 days per week but choose to drive into the office when they do commute, as indicated by the Center City Mode Split data, this could have negative impacts on the program’s core goals and on congestion issues in the region. 

Future-focused

Commute Seattle believes that bike lanes, transit projects, and critical safety improvements are needed to create a more community-centered transportation system. We support opportunities for increased density, family-friendly neighborhoods, and reducing the harms of congestion and air pollution. The CTR Law’s originated out of the Clean Air Act; we are grateful to continue to care for our environment and work to alleviate barriers to sustainable transportation modes through our work with the City of Seattle on its CTR Program. When employers provide transit passes, support active modes, and charge for parking they are directly increasing our quality of life through better air quality and decreased traffic. 

Let’s Spare the Air in 2022

It is no surprise that many organizations are undergoing operational changes this year. How can your organization be part of positive changes in Seattle? As we navigate hybrid workplaces, telecommuting, and shifts in our everyday routines, it is critical that organizations continue to incentivize and innovate within their transportation programs.

Want to shake up your commuter program, or calculate your own emissions? Contact us at CTR@commuteseattle.com!

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