San Diego Business Journal Transportation: Forum Draws Diverse Ideas for Managing Roadways

The region's transportation plans have been the topic of many debates and public meetings for months, if not years.

Plans call for new and widened highways, additional high occupancy vehicle lanes and extended routes for buses and trolley lines. The bulk of those plans are formulated on a 20-year timeline.

But nearly 30 employers and university officials that attended a forum in Sorrento Valley to discuss traffic problems Oct. 13 were more interested in finding ways to solve the problem now.

"We need to get away from what the problem is and that's money," said John Platt, district manager for the U.S. Postal Service. "We're looking for simple things that we can do right now without using money."

Platt said the postal service has 3,000 employees at its Carmel Mountain Ranch location, and they not only face the problem of getting to work, but, he said, they get stuck in traffic trying to do their work.

This was the first forum for the area's largest employers to vent concerns to government and transportation officials and seek answers to the gridlock many face on a daily basis.

Forum Delayed By Traffic Woes

Case in point: The meeting, held in the heart of Sorrento Valley, was delayed by nearly half an hour because many of the participants were stuck in traffic.

It is estimated San Diego's top 100 companies collectively represent more than 130,000 employees.

Harvey White, president and CEO of Leap Wireless International, has worked in Sorrento Valley for more than 20 years and said the ultimate solution to the traffic problem will come from government officials. But, he said, employers need to understand they have a responsibility in the process as well.

"When it comes down to the end, it's all going to get done by elected officials and agencies," White said. "People have talked about transportation and everybody thinks their voice is not important. I think an effective business community here is important.

"I think the most we can hope to get out of this (forum) is to increase awareness and hopefully get more people involved in trying to solve the problem and not complain about it."

During the session, participants suggested possible solutions to the morning and evening traffic jams. Employers and university officials asked panelists , representatives from the California Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Transit District Board, the North County Transit District and the San Diego Association of Governments (Sandag) , to implement a stronger marketing campaign so drivers will know all of the alternatives.

Public Transportation

One suggestion was to place billboards along crowded routes to encourage drivers to use public transportation.

There was agreement among the group that most employees are unaware Sandag offers a program for employees to van-pool, or that there is a system in place to match those interested in car-pooling.

According to Allison Richards-Evensen, who manages Sandag's RideLink program, more than 150 vans transport 1,400 commuters to and from work each day.

She said the program not only benefits employees, it also benefits employers through subsidies and tax credits.

Other suggestions included:

- Employers should provide company vehicles for those who car-pool or take public transit to work, but must leave the office to attend meetings.

- Stagger work hours.

- Ask local businesses to back a lobbying campaign to seek more state transportation funds.

- Increase shuttle services near transit stations.

County Supervisor Pam Slater, who organized the meeting, suggested that employers charge for parking as an incentive to get employees to take public transit. Slater said area universities charge for parking and participate in programs to offer discounts for students who take public transit.

"I hope (employers) will start to think creatively about the role they can play in making the system work better," Slater said.

"This is not just a matter of elected officials."