DENVER–Colorado Governor Jared Polis wants to reduce air pollution by mandating that employers create commuting alternatives to their employees driving in single-occupancy vehicles (SOV).
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is proposing to implement new regulations that would force companies in the Denver Metro/North Front Range area with more than 100 employees to create “Employee Transportation Reduction Plans (ETRP).” This is in pursuit of an “ambitious” 2019 law that requires a 26% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and a 90% reduction from 2005 levels by 2050.
CDPHE is a cabinet-level state agency that falls under the purview of Governor Polis. The new regulations would be implemented under the authority of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC), which is controlled by Polis appointees.
“That’s the most alarming part of what they’re trying to do,” Patrick McConnell, Coalitions Director for the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity told Complete Colorado. “Legislating through the rule-making process is not the way to go about this. It needs transparency and accountability. This is something they should put through the people’s elected representatives.”
The stated goal is for large companies to “achieve an SOV Drive Rate of 75% or less” by 2022 and 60% by 2024 by offering employees a menu of options and subsidies as part of their mandatory ETRP.
The SOV Drive Rate is calculated by “dividing the number of employees who report or are assigned to a worksite, by the number of vehicles that arrive at the worksite, from all shifts, seven days a week, averaged over the calculation period.”
CDPHE is essentially farming out to large companies enforcement of something it cannot do on its own; tell people they can’t drive their own cars to work.
Forcing companies to come up with a plan that meets the standards set by CDPHE burdens employers with making employees obey, says McConnell. This could be as simple as saying “carpool or take the bus or get fired” if the costs of compliance are higher than those of finding more compliant employees.
“So, let’s say an employee comes to his boss and says, ‘Hey, what’s going on with all these changes? Why is this affecting my commute’,” McConnell said. “The business can then say, ‘This is something the government is forcing us to do.’ And if you go to the government, they can say, ‘Well that’s not our plan, that’s something the business is forcing you to do.’ So, it puts it puts everybody in a really, really tough situation.”
The cost of compliance
The Colorado Regional Air Quality Council (CRAQC), in a draft analysis dated March 9, 2021, said that for the “approximately 511,000 employees at approximately 800 large employers (greater than 250 employees) in the Denver Metro/North Front Range ozone non-attainment area,” a full annual Regional Transportation District (RTD) transit subsidy would cost those employers $192,647,000 per year in total, or $240, 809 per year, per employer.
Two $10 RTD roundtrip day passes per week for each employee would cost $558,012,000.
Added to that is the cost of a state-required “Employer Transportation Coordinator” (ETC) who is to “develop, market, administer, and monitor the employers ETRP Plan(s) for an affected worksite(s).”
CRAQC estimates the cost would be $60,000 per year for salary and benefits and assumes that one employee would only work 1/10th of the time. That, they say, would cost $5,760,000 per year, or about $7,200 per affected company.
But the CRAQCC cost benefit analysis assumes that the regulation covers only 800 employers with more than 250 employees, whereas the CDPHE regulation includes employers with more than 100 employees, of which CDPHE says there are 2,763, totaling more than 877,000 employees, a 58% increase.
On top of that some businesses have more than one worksite with more than 100 employees, particularly building contractors. They would appear to have to have an ETC at each worksite, presumably monitoring and calculating the SOV drive rate every day by counting the number of vehicles “that arrive at the worksite” and figuring out how many are employees showing up each day.
A single 1/10th FTE (full-time equivalent) employee to do all this, even at one worksite, seems to be a substantial underestimation of what may in fact turn out to be an entire staff of company employees tasked to “develop, market, administer, and monitor” the ETRP plan.
‘Incentivizing’ alternative commuting nothing new
CDPHE reports that “there are at least 27” demand management programs throughout the nation as well as private organizations in Colorado with voluntary plans.
One of them is run by Washington state and has been in operation since 2007.
The similarities between the CDPHE plan and Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) program aren’t likely accidental.
A 2019 report by WSDOT says that commuting trips to CTR sites are only 4% of total daily trips. The largest percentage is 42% for “family and personal errands,” followed by 27% for “social and recreational” activities, 15% for “other” trips and 12% “commute trips to non-CTR sites.”
In 2017 WSDOT said that “Half a million employees at more than 1,000 CTR-affected worksites…left about 22,400 cars at home every weekday,” and “increased their non-drive-alone trip rate from 34.3 percent to 39.1 percent.”
That’s a 4.4% decrease in the millions of cars on the highway each day.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2019 of the 3,011,612 daily commuters in Colorado, 74.2% drove alone, 8.6% carpooled and only 3.2% used public transportation other than taxicabs.
Adding to the issue, RTD cut its service by about 40% during the pandemic and its not clear that previous, non-transit dependent riders will be willing to get back on public transit moving forward, regardless of what services may be restored.
This begs the question of whether the alternative transportation infrastructure needed to move 877,000 employees twice a day in a reasonable amount of time exists, or ever will exist.
For many people, waiting hours and hours for a rideshare to become available or walking that last mile (or three) from a crowded train station twice a day just isn’t going to work for them, not to mention those who need to do things other than going directly home after work, like shopping or picking up kids.
“We’re talking about families,” McConnell said. “It’s just going to create new barriers for folks getting to and from work each day, and family obligations come up when you least expect it. You can’t always rely on a “guaranteed” ride home. I think they need to take a step back and look more closely at the impacts.”
The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission will hold a Zoom meeting Thursday, May 20 beginning at 9:00 a.m. to hear the CDPHE rulemaking request. Register for the meeting here. Instructions for submitting written comments are available at the Zoom meeting link.
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