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Two Thirds of City Workers Continue to Drive Alone to Work, Slow-Growth Group Reports

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By Jorge Casuso

February 11, 2020 -- Despite City Hall's longstanding efforts to get motorists out of their cars, two-thirds of municipal employees continue to drive alone to work and to park Downtown for free, the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) reported Tuesday.

The slow-growth group based its findings -- which it called "astonishing" -- on a June 2019 survey of municipal employees' commuting habits it obtained from the City under the Pubic Records Act.

The survey of 1,587 of the 1,754 employees reporting to work between June 17 and June 21 found that commuting alone in a vehicle was by far the preferred mode of getting to work.

Of the total 4,481 trips to work taken by respondents, 2,996 trips -- or nearly 67 percent -- were taken by employees commuting alone in their cars, according to the survey.

"After years of assurances that City government would improve its own mobility numbers, solo driving figures for City government employees were actually worse in 2019 than they were in 2018," Coalition leaders wrote in an email to supporters.

"While our City government continues its policy of making parking more difficult and expensive for everyone else, they continue to not apply the rules to themselves.

"Their message to residents: 'do as we say, not as we do.'”

Of the total trips taken by respondents, 437 trips included at least two persons per vehicle, while another 153 trips were made in zero emission vehicles and 63 on motorcycles, according to the City's survey.

Of the total trips, 726 -- or 16 percent -- were made by bus, train, bicycle or walking, the forms off transportation encouraged by the City.

Of those, 314 were by rail and 93 by bus, accounting for about 9 percent of the weekly trips, according to the survey.

The remaining 106 trips were accounted for by "telecommute" or "noncommuting."

The survey was part of a memo from Planning Director David Martin to City Manager Rick Cole dated August 1, 2019.

As an employer of more than 250 workers located in the South Coast Air Basin, the City is required to submit an Employee Trip reduction plan each year, Martin noted.

The average vehicle ridership (AVR) in 2019 was 1.61, down from 1.63 in 2018, Martin reported.

While that was above the 1.50 AVR goal set by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, it fell far below the City's target of 2.20, according to Martin's report.

Coalition leaders -- who say the group has repeatedly raised this issue since 2016 -- noted the City's step backwards comes "on top of 2018 having been 15 percent worse than 2008."

When the Coalition released the City's numbers last year, the group noted that more than 2,000 employees work in City Hall and other facilities near Expo and Big Blue Bus stops ("Santa Monica's Mobility Plan Isn't Working, Development Watchdog Group Contends," October 10, 2018).

"Most City staff park in the Downtown/City Hall area, and ALL City employees park for FREE, paid for by the City," the group wrote at the time.

"Every time the City enters into new collective bargaining agreements with City employees, free parking is included. This needs to stop."

City officials said municipal employees are offered "robust green commuter incentives" that include bike/walk incentives, transit reimbursement, parking cash out, a compressed work week and telecommuting.

"The City of Santa Monica is committed to getting our workforce to green commute," said City spokesperson Constance Farrell. "We will continue to work with our staff to find green commuting solutions that work for different commuting needs."

The City, Farrell said, is performing better than the region, which has a 1.35 AVR, and better than local employers with more than 30 workers, which have an AVR of 1.54.

"We did see a slight reduction in the City’s AVR in 2019," Farrell said. "Even so, our workforce is walking, biking, and taking mass transit more than two times the regional average."

She noted that 16 percent of City employees are getting to work on modes other than a car, compared to 7.4 percent regionally.

The release of the survey results by the Coalition comes at a time when development in Santa Monica is expected to to increase, the slow-growth group noted ("Housing Targets Will Be Difficult to Contest, Experts Say," December 20, 2019).

"Large scale development is taking place all over Downtown and will likely surge due to a possible state mandate for Santa Monica to somehow build 9,000 new housing units in just the next eight years," the email said.

"This projected growth, if it occurs, will be centered on our boulevards and the area around Bergamot, bringing sharply increased traffic into already congested areas."

The email also noted that a proposed mixed-use hotel development on City owned land at 4th Street and Arizona Avenue "would bring an alarming 5,000 car trips daily" to the heat of Downtown ("Comment Period Begins for 'The Plaza at Santa Monica' Draft EIR," December 11, 2018).

"It is the height of hypocrisy, not to mention bad planning, for the City to make it more difficult for residents to drive while at the same time encouraging and rewarding its employees to drive solo by paying for their parking," Coalition leaders said.

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