Providing parking and the cost of parking is a critical factor today. It was one issue that was facing Humana, one of the nation’s largest publicly traded health benefits company, headquartered in Louisville, Ky.
In the central business district of Louisville, Humana employs approximately 8,500 associates that work in a five-block area. Brent Densford, director of workplace solutions with Humana, says, “with 8,500 associates in a five-block radius, as you can imagine parking is a little bit of a challenge.
“And, being a second-tier city, public transportation isn’t really first and foremost on most people’s minds. This is still a community where essentially everyone drives to work.” He adds, “As we continued to grow, the parking experience began to deteriorate for our associates.”
At the time, Humana was already offering TARC vouchers to its employees. Employees that did not have access to a vehicle or didn’t want to pay their portion of parking could ride with a voucher. Densford mentions roughly 150 people were using the voucher system each month.
The Main & Market St. Trolley provides service that runs between Humana and Lousiville Slugger Field, the minor league baseball stadium where many employees park.
More than just parking issues, Humana was looking at a number of things. First, Densford says, was to create an enhanced experience for its associates.
“Associate experience first,” he states. “We just wanted to enhance the experience, give people a chance to not have to go out and find parking, not have to park in a location that they believe is a far distance.” He adds, “An equal benefit that we could provide for all associates for a relatively small charge.”
Second, Humana was active in its focus on sustainability and green efforts. “We’re very focused on, as a non-manufacturing business, still trying to reduce our carbon footprint,” Densford says. He adds that Humana has recently partnered with the EPA’s Energy Star and the Alliance with Kentucky Excel, a program that the state of Kentucky has to bring green businesses to the area.
Regarding the TARC partnership and Humana’s sustainability focus, Densford says, “This just fit nicely into that umbrella, environmental consciousness.
“The third thing we’re trying to accomplish is trying to help and invest in the community,” Densford says. Along with one of the local board members, Densford has been working with the downtown development corporation on alternatives to rush hour.
“Federal grants are beginning to be quite scarce for infrastructure enhancements like new roads,” he says. “We were looking with our downtown development corporation to apply for several new grants from the federal government that look at alternative ways to help reduce overcrowding due to traffic.”
He adds, “We’re trying to avoid getting to the status of some of the first-tier cities with traffic congestion problems and we felt like this was one way to help community effort and to help on some of our applications as a city, to look for federal grant money to look for alternative ways to reduce traffic.”
The competitive focus on talent and getting people to move to Louisville was the other major concern. Like many other cities, a lot of the growth had moved out to the suburban locations for many years. Densford says, “We have quite an increase in residential housing in the central business district.
“A lot of infrastructure’s coming back to downtown Louisville. There’s a lot of varied price range housing that’s available and that’s exciting,” he says. “We’re drawing new types of talent that’s interested in working in an urban environment looking at Louisville.”
He mentions that Humana realized that part of that urban development would be the urban continual development of the mass transportation system.
Densford states, “Again, being the second-tiered city, it’s not really been quite the focus, but we felt like stepping up and partnering with TARC.
“It would introduce mass transportation to other people who otherwise wouldn’t have used it, to get them interested in it.” He adds, “It would hopefully be one catalyst that would help build infrastructure that would then help the downtown continue to grow in residential units.”
This initiative with TARC really came out of dealing with the first issue, a way to help associates have some alternatives. During the middle of the conversations, gas prices were starting to rise. “That was another catalyst for people to be interested in looking at a program like this,” Densford says.
Developing a Solution
Humana and TARC developed an initiative where employee IDs work as transit passes, NextBus display signs in Humana lobbies let employees know exactly when the next trolley is coming with Trapeze software ensuring that it all talks to each other.
Partnering with members of the community is nothing new to TARC, Executive Director J. Barry Barker mentions. “What we’ve done over a number of years, we did first with the Univeristy of Louisville.
“We started some circulator service, shuttle service on campus,” he says. Part of that was also that the university ID worked as a transit pass. The university was able to relocate its parking because of the shuttle service, and that led to a better use of central campus land for things other than parking lots.
“Then metro Louisville itself, city government, got on board,” he says. “So we have been promoting this in terms of the better way to serve and facilitate using public transportation.”
Densford explains Humana was looking to step up its partnership with TARC. “We were talking to TARC about what it was costing us to do that [voucher program]. We were explaining to them what we were trying to do from a perspective of the experience and environmental issues.
“Barry’s team, they were already working on a federal grant for the NextBus technology but they were looking for a corporate sponsor for that,” Densford says. “We felt that was interesting and it provided our associates another piece of technology support, being able to see when buses would come, being able to manage their time.
“We said we’ll step up and we’ll be a sponsor of that,” he states.
Barker says, “We’re paying for the software and the equipment on the trolleys, Humana is putting hardware in the lobbies of their buildings that tells them, tells anybody that looks at the TV screen, when the next trolley is going to be there.” With a laugh Barker adds, “The interesting thing is, we’ve now found out that there are these TV screens that are telling us and the rest of the world how are schedule adherence is.”
In a short time, Humana has seen benefits of the program and Densford is able to explain how the initiative fits with Humana’s corporate objectives, metrics and retention.
“It costs about $21 per associate per year, so it’s a very low-cost benefit for us to be able to offer this,” he says. “From a financial investment, it was very minor.”
The program was opened the first of June in 2007. In June, he says they saw a 7 percent increase. For July, there was a 23 percent increase in the number of people taking the TARC buses that were not taking them before.
“On our new hires, in the month of June and July, the people going through open enrollment, 60 percent of that group were selecting not to accept the parking card,” Densford states. Humana subsidizes 75 percent of the employee’s parking in downtown Louisville as a benefit. Densford reiterates, “60 percent of our new hires actually opted for the bus rides in June and July. They see the value in not bringing their vehicle, reducing their gas and not paying their 25 percent.”
“The ROI is very simple,” Densford says. “50 people not picking up a parking card, or giving their parking card back, pays for the program.” Out of 8,500 employees, that is half a percent that have to convert to the program. “That’s how we look at it from a financial perspective,” he states.
Talking about the success of the program, Barker says, “We’re excited about it because they are one of Lousiville’s largest employers, they’re a Fortune 500 company and just their willingness to do it.
“It reinforces the message that people are interested in using public transportation if they know when it’s going to get there, if they have certainty about it and it has the dependability.”
He adds, “What excites me is how enthusiastic they are getting about it.”
Densford states, “We have an associate that has an environmentally clean option, one that supports the community, one that gets them a better experience and we reduce and save on the parking.”