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Rest Your Car pushes alternate commuting modes


The reconstruction of Interstate Highway 235 is still years away from completion, forcing downtown commuters to plan alternate routes and deal with bumper-to-bumper traffic in some areas.

The city of Des Moines and the Greater Des Moines Transportation Management Association hope that the crowded streets, coupled with a few incentives, could encourage some commuters to choose alternate commuting modes, such as carpooling, that will contribute to Greater Des Moines’ goal of creating a 10 percent permanent reduction in traffic volumes on I-235.

“The first couple of years, we were really focused on educating commuters about construction and commute options,” said Amanda Carstens Steward, director of the TMA. “And we feel like people know about that now, and we want to start to push people to really think about changing their behaviors.”

With that in mind, the TMA and the city will launch the Rest Your Car program on April 1, which will provide incentives for commuters to try something different.

The program is open to commuters who agree to carpool, vanpool, ride the bus, bicycle or walk to work at least four times a month. The program includes preferred parking, discounts on car maintenance services and other incentives to participants. The TMA will conduct monthly drawings for cash and gift cards, and quarterly drawings for a trip, or approximately $2,000 in travel vouchers.

“Changing any behavior is difficult,” Carstens Steward said. “Our research shows that incentives are the thing that, for people who are on the fence, it gets them to try it. There are lots of perceptions that people have about why a certain commute mode won’t work for them. So our hope is that these incentives will get them over the hump to where they realize that maybe those perceptions just aren’t real.”

The TMA will track individuals’ participation by asking them to use a swipe-card system at some garages, or report their alternate commute mode on www.restyourcar.com.

A significant feature of Rest Your Car is a preferred parking program that will designate areas on the lower levels of the city-owned parking garages located at Ninth and Locust streets and Fourth Street and Grand Avenue for carpoolers, designated by a tag hung from their rear-view mirrors. Other commuters will have access to those preferred spots, though for an additional charge.

Carstens Steward said two carpools have signed up for preferred parking privileges, though an additional 35 commuters have indicated a willingness to pay the higher fee to park in preferred spots without carpooling.

“We’re going to evaluate that as that becomes an issue,” she said, adding that preferred parking is considered a pilot program and will be evaluated after six months.

More than a dozen commuters have registered for Rest Your Car, which also will offer discounts on maintenance services such as oil changes. In addition, the Des Moines Metropolitan Transit Authority has extended its Guaranteed Ride Home program to Rest Your Car participants, ensuring a paid ride home via a taxicab to people who came to work using an alternate commute mode and were faced with an emergency during the day or had to work late.

The TMA has partnered with several downtown businesses to extend the program’s reach to even more downtown employees. Some will establish preferred parking areas in their company-owned garages, and the TMA will install swipe-card systems in a few of those garages.

Allied Insurance will offer preferred parking to carpoolers at its two downtown locations as an incentive for its employees to carpool, even occasionally, during the course of a month. The company will launch the program at its 1100 Locust St. headquarters in mid-April and at its 701 Fifth Ave. building later in the summer.

Employers such as Allied will also have access to automated information that will indicate how many employers are using alternate modes of commuting, how often they are doing so and how they are contributing to the 10 percent traffic reduction.

“As we continue to do improvements with the city, it’s probably an easy way to help alleviate traffic congestion,” said Allied spokesman Mike Palmer. “(The TMA) has put together a nice package to offer people, so they’ve made it easy for an employer to do this.”

Committee developing plan for downtown shuttle

When discussions began among the Des Moines city officials, business executives and other agencies and organizations regarding a downtown shuttle, it became obvious that the real answers were going to come from a different group: the hundreds of people who would actually use a shuttle on a regular basis.

The Downtown Shuttle Advisory Committee, now composed of nearly 40 business owners, property owners, downtown employees and downtown residents, has met twice and will continue to meet through the end of April to provide input and advice on the various elements of a shuttle system, with the help of research from other cities that have similar systems in place.

Brian Litchfield, director of special projects for the Des Moines Metropolitan Transit Authority, said the group is considering all aspects of the shuttle system, including routes, destinations, hours of operation, cost to passengers and the design of the vehicles. The shuttles would likely run east and west between Meredith Corp. headquarters and the state Capitol, and north and south between the Iowa Events Center and Principal Park. Litchfield hopes to have a detailed plan established by late April, at which time the city and other groups can collaborate to determine a budget.

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