In 1993, Washington passed the “Commute Trip Reduction” law, requiring employers with 100 or more employees to develop a transportation program for their staff. That could take many forms, including bus passes, vanpool fare subsidies, preferential parking for carpools and vanpools, and other offerings.
One response to the state law is the “ORCA for Business” program offered by Pierce Transit. ORCA, or “One Regional Card for All,” is a seamless fare system, allowing the rider to travel on many different transit agency services throughout the region. For example, a customer might take a Pierce Transit bus to Tacoma Dome Station, and from there hop on the Sound Transit Sounder Train to Seattle and back, using an ORCA card to pay for all their trips. Transit riders can even use their ORCA card on the state ferry.
Sharon Stockwell has worked with Pierce County businesses for the past 26 years, including the last 10 years managing Pierce Transit’s ORCA Business programs. She works with businesses of all sizes, from small employers and non-profit organizations, to large companies, educating them about what service Pierce Transit provides and helping them develop a customized transportation program specifically for their employees.
There are two types of ORCA for Business programs available: “Business Choice” and “Business Passport.”
A Business Choice account provides flexibility for employers to load as many or as few ORCA cards for their employees as they would like, at the same cost per trip as any rider would pay. They can have monthly passes loaded onto their employees’ cards, and/or day passes, or even put money into an “electronic purse,” which acts like cash to take a transit trip. A Business Choice account allows the employer the flexibility to pay for as much or as little of their employees’ transportation costs as they would like.
A Business Passport account is a deeply discounted, transportation pass program. Employers purchase annual passes for their employees, and must make them available to all eligible workers. This option is available to employers with as few as five employees. Business Passport accounts cover unlimited travel on all Pierce Transit, Sound Transit, King County Metro Transit, Kitsap Transit, Community Transit and Everett Transit services (with an add-on ferry option). Accounts for employers with five to 499 employees include 100 percent coverage of all Vanpool fares, as well as an “Emergency Ride Home” program, which pays for a ride home should an emergency arise and an employee need to leave work unexpectedly. Larger accounts include customized pricing and the option to add Vanpool and Emergency Ride Home to their programs.
ORCA for Business programs are a competitive employee benefit that allows employers to attract and retain the best employees. These accounts are easy to administer, as loading products, ordering new cards, blocking lost or stolen cards and transferring the money to new cards can all be completed online. In addition, providing easy access to transit supports employers’ sustainability goals and helps free up valuable parking for customers and clients.
There are many benefits to employees of organizations as well. Tax-free or company-subsidized transit passes allow employees to get to work affordably, conveniently and sustainably. Taking transit also reduces employees’ stress and allows them to use their commute time more efficiently by reading, checking email or just relaxing. With Vanpool in particular, sharing a ride can lead to enhanced employee relationships.
Additionally, most employers allow their employees to use the passes for transit trips outside of commuting to and from work. “The idea is that they already have the ORCA card in their pocket or wallet and can use it for work or for personal use,” Sharon explains.
Currently, Pierce Transit, with grant funds provided by the Washington State Department of Transportation, and in partnership with King County Metro and Community Transit in Snohomish County, is working with employers on a special offer. Businesses with fewer than 100 employees that have never before had a Business Choice or Business Passport account, may be eligible for a 50 percent rebate on their contribution amount, up to $10,000. For information about this offer, contact Brenda Davis with Pierce Transit’s Community Development team at email@example.com or 253-581-8093.
Pierce Transit staff is happy to meet with your company and provide an overview of the ORCA for Business program, give detailed cost comparisons, identify tax benefits, share additional Pierce Transit incentives offered to businesses, and answer any questions about employee transportation programs.
To find out more about the ORCA for business, visit Pierce Transit’s website.