Curing a hospital’s transportation ailments

This post originally appeared on the Arlington Transportation Partners blog.

Virginia Hospital Center is a leading medical services provider and one of the nation’s top teaching hospitals, providing 24/7 healthcare across two campuses. Over the years, the size of VHC’s facilities and the number of staff have grown considerably. That growth has provided the hospital with an opportunity to rethink their transportation and parking strategies and to utilize public/private partnerships to find solutions.

Transportation challenges

Like many hospitals today, VHC is motivated to look at all aspects of the patient’s experience. As one of Arlington County’s largest employers, with more than 2,000 employees, they are also interested in retaining and recruiting the best talent. In a region where transportation can make or break a patient’s decision on where to receive care, or an employee’s choice on where to work, it is crucial to cater to many needs and provide multiple mobility options. Gone are the days when a large campus, whether it be a hospital, a university, or an employer site can focus solely on providing parking. VHC has been working diligently with Arlington County to make sure they have identified all these options to remain competitive.

ART 51

The ART 51 route connects commuters and visitors to the Ballston-MU Metro station.

VHC has limited parking for staff at its main campus and in recent years, management has added additional parking about 1.5 miles away with free shuttle service to the hospital. With so many employees, patients, and visitors commuting to the main campus, the impact VHC has on the county’s roads and transportation network is significant. Therefore, as part of its development agreement with Arlington County, VHC also subsidizes two local ART bus routes (left) that employees can ride for free – or opt into a more active commute with support from the hospital with provided bike parking, showers and lockers.

All these additional services came at considerable cost to VHC, yet issues remained regarding parking capacity and demand. To explore further solutions to the challenging commuting situation for its employees, VHC reached out to its long-term transportation demand management resource, Arlington Transportation Partners, to assist them with understanding current employee commute modes and identify opportunities to implement programs that would be attractive to employees for getting to work and provide a financial savings for employees and the hospital.

TDM solutions

For this concentrated effort,  ATP started a collaboration with Mobility Lab in March 2016, to survey VHC employees for the purpose of  understanding their commute patterns and provide non-drive-alone mobility recommendations based on these findings. To facilitate the survey process, a mixture of multiple on-site events and VHC intranet opportunities were incorporated. The combined effort resulted in an above average 31 percent survey response rate.

VHC shared data with ATP and Mobility Lab in order to study transit trip times against drive-alone trip times using Modeify, a software tool which is part of Arlington’s CarFreeAtoZ project. The transit options analyzed included commuting to/from the additional parking facility leased by VHC close to the Ballston Metro Station (1.5 miles from the main facility) for three reasons:

  • It is the off-site parking garage VHC promotes its employees to use
  • It is a stop for the two ART routes employees ride for free
  • It is the stop for the free shuttle bus that connects employees to the main campus

Modeify helped identify various commute options, namely that approximately 1,900 employees have access to transit, around 250 employees live within a 30-minute bike commute, and a significantly high number of employees have at least one carpool match of a fellow VHC employee within a quarter-mile radius of their house.

ATP’s recommendations

VHC-hrrep

Human resources at VHC.

Additionally, a high percentage of survey respondents acknowledged using transit before and expressed interest in receiving a pre-tax transit subsidy to save money on their commute. Based on the survey results and data analyses, ATP recommended that VHC offer a pre-tax transit benefit that employees could use for Metrorail, local and regional buses, VRE/MARC trains or vanpool. Offering a pre-tax transit benefit helps employees save up to 38 percent on commuting expenses, which equals $1,175/year, while employers can save just over $400 per employee on payroll taxes. Since employers are able to offer up to $255 per month, it can make a considerable difference for both employees and employers alike.

VHC agreed with ATP’s recommendation that WMATA’s SmartBenefits tool would be the best fit to implement the program due to its ease of use via its online user interface and IRS compliance as well as the interface being free to employers and employees. Over the past six months, ATP has worked with VHC Human Resources to set up and implement a pre-tax benefit for staff that is available to eligible employees starting this open enrollment cycle. ATP is looking forward to working with VHC to educate employees about the benefit and options available to individuals that would allow them to take advantage of the new benefit.

In conclusion

Hospitals generate a significant economic impact in the region with thousands of employees looking for options on how to get to work. As hospitals look for ways to improve their patients’ experience and be positive role models as corporate community citizens, it is imperative that hospitals provide convenient transportation options and benefits to their employees. ATP plans to gladly continue the partnership with VHC to educate employees about their mobility choices and increase employee participation in the newly implemented transit-benefit program.

Photo Credit: Reema Desai/ReemaDesai.com for Arlington Transportation Partners. ART 51 bus map from Arlington Transit.

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