by Gladys Hurwitz, Multimodal Transportation Specialist, Maryland Department of Transportation, with Kristen E. Humphrey, Local Assistance and Training Planner
Have you heard of Commuter Choice Maryland? If not, check it out! Commuter Choice Maryland is a program of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) designed to connect commuters and businesses to numerous online tools, resources, and opportunities. The goal of the program is to reduce congestion on Maryland roadways, improve air quality, and help Marylanders enhance their quality of life.
The Commuter Choice Maryland program works to mitigate traffic congestion and support mobility and health to both commuters and business owners. The program encourages and helps commuters find alternate means of transportation to and from work.
Business owners who provide commuting benefits for their employees may take advantage of the Maryland Commuter Tax Credit, which can save money. Offering commuting benefits, such as free or reduced-price transit passes, and flexibility, such as travelling to work at off-peak hours or telecommuting to employees, not only improves congestion, but also helps businesses attract and retain top level talent and gain a better life-work balance.
Over the past year, MDOT has made great strides in expanding the delivery of workplace commuter benefits through the expansion of services, resources, and tools to employers. As a result, 1,200 employees are currently benefitting from the Maryland Commuter Tax Credit, a number that grows annually. The Commuter Tax Credit is a key incentive of the Commuter Choice Maryland Program which allows employers to claim a tax credit for a portion of the eligible costs of providing benefits to participating employees equal to 50% of the cost up to $100 per month for each employee.
Together with area business partners, MDOT continues to expand outreach to more commuters and businesses each year. Since 2018, MDOT has connected with more than 12,000 commuters and business owners through outreach events and reached more than 7,000 additional business owners through online webinars and quarterly newsletters.
Business leaders have shared some positive experiences regarding the benefits of smart commute options:
“From a leadership and business perspective, investing in a vanpool program is a smart decision, especially if your employees face transportation obstacles,” said Steve Heise, Vice President of human resources at Live! Casino & Hotel, when asked about offering commuter options for employees.
“If we are having power outages and we need to get additional call center staff on the phones, we can get them on the phones within a matter of minutes when they work from home,” said Joe Trentacosta, senior vice president of Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO), regarding telework options.
Remote Work During COVID-19
For the first time in our nation’s history, we are facing a pandemic that has forced many organizations and businesses to quickly plan for working remotely or to adjust their existing remote work plans and polices to accommodate full time remote work for most, if not all, employees.
Many Maryland agencies and companies have been able to easily shift to remote work while the state mandated stay-at-home orders, which have allowed these businesses and agencies to stay open during this crisis. This has given employers the opportunity to adapt their workplace policies and has given employees the opportunity to learn how to be productive in a virtual work environment. Commuter Choice Maryland has responded to many employers’ increased need for information by providing the following resources:
- Lunch and Learn Webinar Series – Reflections of Remote Work Life During and Post COVID-19: Success Stories & Lessons Learned from Maryland Businesses. In this weekly webinar series, business leaders will cover best practices for a business remote work program, lessons learned, tips for adjusting to a new work culture, and how to better prepare for remote work after COVID-19. To see the series schedule and register for a webinar, and to view recordings of past webinars and slide decks, visit MDOT’s Commuter Choice Maryland
- Telework Toolkit – This toolkit is intended to help businesses craft a telework policy. In this document, employers will find a set of sample policies, sample telework agreements, a discussion of technology considerations, and a list of co-working and teleworking spaces available through the state to take into consideration following the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Remote Work Tips for Success – Employers and employees can remain informed of the latest developments and valuable resources by connecting via our social media pages, on Facebook and LinkedIn.
During and post-COVID-19, businesses and commuters throughout the state may find themselves with new commuting needs, and it is important to keep in mind that they are not alone. Commuter Choice Maryland representatives can work with employers and employees to minimize the challenges and expense of driving alone by outlining alternatives such as transit, carpooling/vanpooling, teleworking when feasible, and adjusting work hours to avoid peak travel times. This is true now and will be even more so after we return to more normal commuting patterns.
Additional Resources to Keep in Mind Post-COVID-19
When Maryland is ready to start phasing in full operations, this could mean different things for the state’s commuters. Perhaps, many employees will start going back to the office, which may mean having to commute to their offices a couple of days a week or more. For many who would like to try an alternative to driving alone, here are some tools available to help plan for a revised commute:
- Commuter Choice Maryland Calculator – This commuter calculator will determine the best commute options and how much money can be saved on gas, vehicle maintenance cost, parking cost savings, including environmental benefits by switching to a carpool, vanpool, transit, telework, commute during off-peak times, bike, or walk option one or more times a week.
- Maryland Employer Benefits Toolkit – In addition to other toolkits, this one helps employers understand how to take advantage of the Maryland Commuter Tax Credit and other transportation fringe benefits, including how to create a commuter benefits program.
- Guaranteed Ride Home – This program provides a free ride home to registered commuters. The free ride home option makes it easier for people to carpool or take transit if they need to stay late or get home for a family emergency. Guaranteed Ride Home is available to commuters who take transit, rideshare/carpool, vanpool, bike, walk at least twice a week. Commuters who qualify can register through Commuter Choice Maryland.
Maryland OneStop Portal: Saving Money Made Easy
To make signing up for Commuter Choice Maryland program options such as the tax credit more convenient, MDOT has automated the registration process through an electronic form on the Maryland OneStop Portal. The OneStop Portal allows business owners and citizens to apply to various state government issued licenses and permits in one location. The customer-friendly platform makes it easier for business owners to apply for the Maryland Tax Credit by completing a brief e-form. Commuter Choice Maryland can also help identify a business’s alternative transportation options and how the program can best serve their needs.
During COVID-19, MDOT’s Commuter Choice Maryland offices remain “virtually” open and staff are ready to assist Maryland employers and employees while they, themselves, are teleworking! For more information, please contact staff by phone at 410-865-1100, and leave a message or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Representatives are available to assist Monday-Friday between 8:30 am – 5:00 pm. Staff are regularly checking customer correspondence. Additionally, Commuter Choice Maryland webinars are offered free of charge, however, space is limited. To participate, reserve a place today by visiting program’s webinar registration page.