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Is the CTR program achieving its goals?

We all know single-occupant driving increases air pollution, increases traffic congestion, and burns more oil. That's why the state legislature created the Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) program in 1991. The program's goal is to address these issues by shifting workers at major employers to choose to get to work in almost any manner other than driving alone.


The priority populations that Snotrac focuses on improving mobility for — people with disabilities, older adults, youth, low income individuals, people of color, and others — are especially impacted by the issues that the CTR program attempts to address. The individuals are disproportionately impacted by air pollution and climate change; have a greater reliance on transit, walking, and biking to get around; and have lower opportunity for socio-economic mobility, in part due to their location of residences and insufficient transportation options.


So, is the CRT program working in Snohomish County? Snotrac collected and analyzed the data from 2007 to 2022 to find out.


Worksites with 100 or more employees who arrive between 6 and 9 a.m. are required to have a CTR plan. This includes designating someone to oversee the plan, implementing measures to reduce driving, and conducting an employee survey every two years.


It's from those survey results that Snotrac has analyzed the data and published a new report. The report aggregates and analyzes the data countywide and city-by-city.



Here's what we found out.


Countywide Mode Share

The following two charts illustrate the trends in commute mode share to CTR-affected worksites countywide. The first chart looks at just driving and telecommuting related trends, while the second chart looks at transit, bicycling, and walking trends.


As shown by the first chart, driving, pooling, and teleworking options account for 92.8% to 96.5% of all commute trips reported by the CTR surveys countywide between 2007 and 2022.


Due to the pandemic, the telecommuting percentage increased substantially in the 2019/2020 CTR survey, up from 3.1% in the prior biennium to 36.1%. Nearly all of this increase came from workers who previously drove or pooled.

Countywide, commuting by transit, walking, and biking (combined) has been declining slightly from a high of 5.2% in 2009/2010 to a low of 2.5% in 2019/2020.

Countywide Trendlines by Mode

Boeing represents roughly half of all employees at CTR-affected worksites in Snohomish County. However, the state made the CTR survey voluntary for the 2019/2020 and 2021/2022 biennia and so Boeing did not conduct the survey for those biennia. As a result, the CTR data for those years may not be indicative of the actual experience. For this reason, the following graphs leave off the last two biennia.


Drive alone mode share

Prior to the pandemic, the countywide drive alone rate was steadily increasing from a low in 2011/2012 of 74.5% to a high of 80.4% in 2017/2018.


Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per worker

The general trend has been upward for trip lengths from home to work, ranging between 12.9 and 15.1 miles per worker.


Bus mode share

Across all CTR worksites in Snohomish County, the trend line for the percentage of workers who commute by bus has been declining from a peak of 3.4% in 2009/2020 to a low of 1.2% in 2021/2022.


Pooling mode share

When comparing all transportation modes, carpool is the second-most used transportation option across the county. However, this percentage steadily declined from a high of 12.1% in 2011/2012 to a low of 8.6% in 2017/2018. Vanpooling is also reasonably high, ranging between 2.7% and 4.5%, driven primarily by workers at Boeing and other worksites within the Southwest Everett Industrial Center.


Comparing to the ACS

The charts below compare the CTR survey results against the 5-year average from the American Community Survey (ACS) produced by the U.S. Census Bureau for the county as a whole. The ACS is an ongoing survey that provides vital information on a yearly basis about U.S. households.


The ACS and CTR surveys measure different aspects of commuting. While they have different methodologies, it is reasonable to expect that the countywide results would be similar, and that the trendlines would be headed in the same direction — all factors held equal. It would also be reasonable to expect that the good faith efforts of CTR program administrators and major employers would result in better results at CTR-affected sites. However, generally that has not been the case.


ACS vs CTR: Drive alone mode share

While the drive alone rate at CTR-affected worksites is steadily increasing, the ACS indicates that the countywide drive alone trend is relatively flat.


ACS vs CTR: Transit mode share

In addition, the overall transit ridership 2-to-4 percentage points higher within the ACS than the CTR survey.


ACS vs CTR: Pooling mode share

On a more positive note, a higher percentage of workers rely on carpooling and vanpooling at CTR-affected worksites than indicated in the countywide data provided by the ACS. However, the difference between the two is closing.


In many Snohomish County cities, it appears that performance to reduce single-occupancy vehicle driving at major employers is lagging behind the overall mode share trends for all commuters. Reasons for this might include:

  • Insufficient staffing. The transit agencies that oversee CTR programs may lack enough personnel to support worksites in implementing CTR programs.

  • Insufficient resources. The transit agencies and worksites may need to dedicate more resources to programming and incentives that will encourage workers to not drive.

  • Insufficient accountability. Without any fear that jurisdictions will penalize employers for failure to comply with the CTR law, the employers may be insufficiently motivated to conduct surveys, create CTR plans, and provide CTR programs and services to their employees.

  • Size discrepancy. CTR worksites are by their nature larger than non-CTR sites. As a result, their facilities are more likely to be located on larger lots farther away from dense urban centers, surrounded by free parking. In addition, larger companies have yielded more political power to shape transportation infrastructure to their benefit, increasing roadway capacity to their facilities. As a result, it’s only natural that workers at large companies would tend to drive more than workers at small companies.

  • Suburban built environment. The land use patterns and transportation systems of Snohomish County may be designed to favor driving to such a strong degree that CTR strategies are ineffective.


Recommendations

  • Focus on renewing worksites and identifying new worksites to participate in the CTR program.

  • Work with human resource departments to prioritize new hires for trip planning and choosing to live near work and along high-capacity transit routes.

  • Implement a “parking cash-out” to pay workers for not driving to work. Alternatively, require workers to pay for parking.

  • Provide employee benefits for workers to buy and maintain electric bicycles, making longer commute by bike distances more attainable for more people.

  • Avoid investments in new highway infrastructure that continue to make driving alone the most convenient commute option.

  • Continue to improve transit services with a grid-based network of frequent, fast buses.

  • Improve coordination between King County Metro and Community Transit to ensure adequate coverage, especially in Bothell.

  • Explore microtransit options where fixed route service is impracticable.

  • Expand or add new worker shuttle services across multiple worksites within the Southwest Everett Industrial Center and Bothell’s Canyon Park district.

  • Capitalize on the opening of Lynnwood Link in 2024 by improving transit services with a grid-based network of frequent, fast buses.

  • Avoid investments in new highway infrastructure that continue to make driving alone the most convenient commute option.

  • Focus on reducing drive alone rates within the Southwest Everett Industrial Center, especially at Boeing, where there is the most workers.

  • Improve marketing of carpool and vanshare options. Encourage employers to cover the complete cost of vanshare.

  • Provide employees with free bus passes.

  • Provide employee benefits for workers to buy and maintain electric bicycles, making longer commute by bike distances more attainable for more people.

  • Ensure all worksites are easy and comfortable to get to by bike.

  • Ensure worksites have sufficient amenities to keep bikes parked, dry, and safe, and for riders to change clothes and shower.

Note: There are several caveats to the available data and how it was analyzed. Read the report to learn more. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to Brock Howell, Snotrac's executive director, at brock@gosnotrac.org.


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