EPA Review Names Intel No. 1 Workplace for Commuters

All it took was a few bagels to turn Mike Finkel into a bicycle commuter. When his employer, Intel Corp., held a bike-to-work day a few years ago, the company promised a bagel breakfast for riders -- which was enough to get Finkel on his bike that morning.

All it took was a few bagels to turn Mike Finkel into a bicycle commuter.

When his employer, Intel Corp., held a bike-to-work day a few years ago, the company promised a bagel breakfast for riders -- which was enough to get Finkel on his bike that morning.

"It made me realize that biking to work was pretty easy, and it made me do it more often," said the engineer, who pedals the three miles from his Folsom home about twice a week.

Encouraging bicycling, subsidizing its employees' mass transit and van-pool costs, and offering telecommuting are among the efforts that earned Intel the No. 1 ranking among the country's Best Workplaces for Commuters, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's annual review of Fortune 500 companies, which is being released today.

It's the second year the EPA has issued its rankings, and the second year that Intel has claimed the top spot. Eight California-based companies, including three with major operations in the Sacramento area, made the EPA's Top 20 list. Hewlett-Packard Co., with operations in Roseville, ranks No. 16, while Apple Computer, with an Elk Grove facility, is No. 20.

Companies are ranked by the percentage of their U.S. work force that is offered choices other than driving a car to work. Intel's 92 percent ranking topped all 88 other Fortune 500 firms that offer significant commuting help to employees. (The Fortune 500 is composed of the nation's largest companies, ranked by annual revenue and compiled by Fortune magazine.)

Intel's commitment to commuting alternatives isn't just window dressing, said Rebecca Garrison, executive director of the 50 Corridor Transportation Management Association, in an e-mail.

"Intel is consistently recognized as a Best Workplace for Commuters because it realizes how important the daily commute is to employee satisfaction and productivity," she wrote. "They don't make commute programs a priority to win awards. They do it because it helps their employees, which ultimately helps the bottom line."

Indeed, that is one of the reasons for the company's emphasis, said Mark Gorman, who oversees Intel's nationwide commute policies.

"It started with us wanting to be a good corporate citizen. Any time you have a large number of employees commuting to a small geographical area, you create traffic issues," Gorman said.

More recently, he said, commuter programs evolved into a perk that's valuable in recruiting and retaining employees.

Among Intel's programs are a Web site to help workers organize carpools, subsidies to defray mass transit and van pool costs, preferred parking for carpoolers, enclosed lockers for bikes, shower and locker facilities, free van transportation from the Iron Point light-rail station to the Folsom campus and free rides home for those who have to work late.

One Intel worker happy to be car-free is Justin Fraga. When gas prices hit $3 a gallon this summer, the analyst began riding light rail from his midtown apartment to the Sunrise Boulevard station, then biking the remaining eight miles to Folsom.

Now, with light rail extended to just a mile from the Intel campus, it's even more convenient. "I miss the extra exercise," he said of the 16-mile round-trip bike trip. "But I have to carry so much stuff on my back, like my laptop and a change of clothes, this is a lot easier. -- Even if gas prices go back down, I won't go back to driving."

Hewlett-Packard also has extensive commute options, which it extends to 46 percent of its employees nationwide, including those in Roseville.

Telecommuting, subsidized bus passes, preferred parking for carpoolers, showers and lockers, and on-site cafes to eliminate lunchtime car trips are all part of the program, said Jo Ann Shields, the Roseville campus's manager of alternative commute programs.

Efforts to reach Apple were not successful.

As a major employer in Roseville, HP is an active participant in the city's programs to cut down on auto traffic, congestion and pollution.

The problem has become particularly acute because of the area's explosive growth, said Lisa Ferrari, who helps administer commuting programs for the transportation division of Roseville's Department of Public Works.

Between 1990 and 2004, Roseville's population soared 116percent, to 96,600. Traffic on Douglas Boulevard, the city's major artery, climbed 27.7percent, from 55,489 cars a day in 1991 to 70,853 in 2003, according to the latest figures available.

Ferrari's department works with businesses and work sites that have more than 50 employees to promote alternatives to solo driving, such as carpools, bus rides and biking.

She said it's hard to measure how well the programs are succeeding, but promotions like the current Commuter Awareness Week in Roseville are designed to encourage people to get out of their cars.

"Our hope," she said, "is that people will try alternative modes of transportation, and (we) hope it works for them."

To see more of The Sacramento Bee, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sacbee.com.

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News