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County of San Mateo- Efficient Transportation Program to Address Climate Change

Case Story

Climate Action Connection: Efficient Transportation

Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs, like this one, reduce VMT by offering incentives for people to change their commute behavior, reducing the number of vehicles on the road.

Community:San Mateo County

Population: 712,690


San Mateo County’s Commute Alternatives Program offers county employees transit pass, vanpool, carpool, bike, and walk to work subsidies, along with a Guaranteed Ride Home Program, carpool-only parking facilities, and bike lockers. Over 1700 of the county’s 5800 (about 30 percent) employees are enrolled in the program.

Program Highlights

  • Program available to all county employees.
  • Up to $75/month subsidy for transit tickets or vanpool expenses.
  • $20 per month subsidy for walking, biking or carpooling at least 8 days per month.
  • Funded through county sales tax.

Lessons Learned

  • Financial incentives are a big plus – most effective method to get people out of their cars.
  • Need to make participation convenient as possible, such as ordering tickets online.
  • Guaranteed Ride Home important to include with commute alternative options, but rarely used.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

San Mateo County established its Commute Alternatives Program (CAP) in 1992 with an initial enrollment of 300 employees. The program provides county employees with a full range of “Transportation Demand Management” (TDM) services, including financial incentives for county employees to use alternate modes of transportation to commute to work. The program also helps connect employees with carpools and vanpools, and provides information about other commute options.

Financial Incentives

The CAP offers subsidies of up to $75 per month for purchase of transit tickets or vanpool expenses. Participating employees order tickets online through the program’s Web site, paying only the amount over the subsidy level. The program offers transit tickets for a wide range of local and regional transit providers.

The program also provides subsidies of $20 per month for employees who walk, bike or carpool to work at least 8 days per month. Employees establish their eligibility for the subsidy on the program’s Web site by filling out an online form and verifying that they carpooled, biked, or walked a minimum of eight days during that particular month. The program sends a monthly report to the county Controller, who adds the subsidies to the paychecks of participating employees. Additionally, daily carpoolers get preferred parking in a dedicated lot.

Guaranteed Ride Home

The program provides a Guaranteed Ride Home in the event of a personal or work-related emergency. Participating employees can get a voucher that covers the costs of a taxi or rental car, or can access cars from the county’s fleet if available. Many similar programs have found that participants rarely use Guaranteed Ride Home benefits, so the cost is low. Such benefits are critical, though, in reassuring potential participants that they will not lose flexibility by changing their commute behavior.

Outreach and Effectiveness

The program communicates with participants and potential participants through a variety of outreach strategies. These include its’ Web site, email blasts, presentations at new employees orientations, and information tables at health & wellness fairs and other events attended by county employees.

The Commute Alternatives Program measures effectiveness by the number of employees that participate. From the 300 original participants, the program now helps over 1700 of approximately 5800 county employees, a participation rate of about 30 percent. The program does not collect detailed information about where participating employees live, and consequently does not track actual reductions in VMT.


San Mateo County funds the Commute Alternatives Program with revenue from a county sales tax that provides funding for transportation improvements and congestion relief. The cost of the program averages between $80,000 to $85,000 per month, or about $1 million a year. This translates to about $65 a month ($580 a year) per participating employee.

Compiled May 2009

This case story was prepared in partnership with the California Integrated Waste Management Board.


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