Many employers want to improve commuting conditions for their employees, but few have a clear picture of what a better system would actually look like. Meanwhile, doing so is more important than ever. Workers have their pick of job opportunities, and working from home during the pandemic opened many employee’s eyes to the amount of time they’d been spending—or, as they might put it, wasting—on commutes they didn’t enjoy.
How can you help facilitate better commutes for your employees? It’s quite possible that the key might lie in a fancy and expensive set of new programming, but before you charge ahead, it’s crucial to understand where you’re starting from—and what path forward will be the most impactful—with a commuter survey.
What is a commuter survey?
A commuter survey is taken at least once per year in order to understand the ways employees get to and from the office. Many employers build their own surveys from scratch, asking basic information about how people travel, the distance they cover, and where they’re coming from..
The ability to take actionable insights from a survey is tied, naturally, the quality of information you’re able to collect. That’s why a poorly developed survey can be more or less useless, while a strategic, purpose-built survey can uncover meaningful opportunities.
What information should I gather with a commuter survey?
Uncovering three key insights should be the goal that guides your survey-making: Time, cost, and carbon.
Time. How long do people spend getting to and from work?
Cost. How much do people (or you, as an employer) spend on commuting?
Carbon. How much C02 do people emit while commuting?
These three data will help you to assess the quality of commuting as it stands now (both in the aggregate and for individuals), as well as inform the steps you can take to improve. (It should go without saying that the optimal commutes tend to minimize the time, cost, and carbon required.)
In order to accurately assess these three factors, you’ll need to collect this essential information from every employee:
Starting point. Aka, their address.
Mode. How do they get from point A to point B? Offering a basic list of options—car, bike, public transit—is a fine starting point, but to get an accurate measurement, you’ll need to get more specific. If they drive, what model of car do they own? If they take public transit, what kind is it? If they take the bus, which line do they use? If they bike, do they ride a road or e-bike?
Timing. When do they come into work? When do they leave?
Days in the office. If they’re part-time or if you have a hybrid workplace, which (or how many) days do they generally spend in the office?
Days working from home. For hybrid or mostly remote companies, which (or how many) do they generally spend at home?
Route stops. Do they travel directly to the office from their front door? Or do they, for example, drop off kids at school along the way? These insights will have major implications for commute route modeling. (Someone who has to travel ten miles from their home to their child’s middle school probably won’t use the shuttle, even if it picks up a block away from their house.)
Qualitative opinions. Get a feel for how your commuters, well, feel! What are their preferences? How happy are they now?
Building a survey that actually works
The types of questions you ask are one important piece of the puzzle. The other? Architecting a survey experience conducive to getting real results. Here are some important factors to consider:
Length. More detail is better, except when it means you’ve shoved 80 questions into a survey nobody is ever going to finish. Be smart about what you’re asking so that you can make the process as efficient as possible.
Difficulty. Your survey should be easy to answer, which means it should only ask questions people immediately know the answers to. For example, if you ask people, “What is the distance of your commute, in miles?”, very few people are going to be able to tell you. Some might drop off at this point, while others might take a wild, totally inaccurate guess. Instead, by asking detailed questions about where they start, stops they may make, and the mode (for example, the bus line) they take, you can determine the exact distance on the back end. (Purpose-built survey tools like Commutifi’s can automate this calculation.)
Easy to update. Commuting surveys aren’t one-and-done. At minimum, you should be surveying your employees yearly and ideally more often, especially if changes in season impact behavior. But if people have to start from scratch every time, you’ll see much lower completion rates as the years go by. Instead, use a smart system that simply prompts people to update existing information already associated with their profile, so they can tweak anything that’s changed. Similarly, you’ll be able to segment respondents based on their answers and send select followup questions as needed.
Purpose-built. There are many generic survey platforms out there, but only tools that are built to survey commuters can automatically assess the data you gather and generate advanced insights.
We got our commuter survey results. Now what?
Put them in a drawer and walk away—job well done. Kidding! But that’s what we might as well be doing a lot of the time. Surveys shouldn’t just be nice-to-know information you can share with anyone who’s curious. Instead, they should serve as benchmarks that offer a clear image of your commuting situation—and as a launching pad for how to improve it.
With automated data insights, you’ll be able to:
See program gaps. With data visualized in heat maps, you’ll get a quick look at where people are underserved. For example, you might spot a cluster of employees who don’t have easy access to your shuttle program, which might mean that you should look into adding another route.
Identify waste. Conversely, you might see that some of the programs currently in place (and the money flowing into them) aren’t as successful as you might have thought. For example, an expensive shuttle program with chronically low-ridership might indicate that you need a better route, a smaller vehicle, or to scrap the program all together.
Minimize turnover. Employees suffering through long, expensive, or unpleasant commutes are more likely to look for another job. By spotting danger zones and taking steps to improve things if possible, you’ll be able to reduce turnover.
The takeaway: It all starts with surveys
You can’t build a plan if you don’t know where you’re starting from. And the best way to get a lay of the land is with a strategic commuter survey constructed in purpose-built tech that can deliver real, actionable insights. Knowledge is power, and with the right data, you’ll be able to create programs that make a difference for your employees and your organization.