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San Diego City Employees Lead On Public Transit, Lag On Bikes

A trolley car arrives at the Civic Center stop downtown, Sept. 26, 2016.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Above: A trolley car arrives at the Civic Center stop downtown, Sept. 26, 2016.

Employees of the city of San Diego ride public transit more than three times as much as the city as a whole, according to a survey to be presented to the City Council on Monday.

The vast majority of city employees — 81 percent — still get to work by driving, the survey found. Thirteen percent of respondents said they ride public transit to work, compared to about 4 percent across the entire city as measured in 2010.

The survey was conducted by ETC Institute, a research firm based in Kansas. Most of its questions related to employee satisfaction.

City employees can pay as little as 7.5 percent of the cost of a transit pass, with the rest of the tab picked up by their employer. Maya Rosas, advocacy manager for the nonprofit Circulate San Diego, said the survey results show the city is doing a good job at incentivizing transit ridership — but that city leaders should also take a more active role in improving the transit system.

"I think the city's main role is to make it easier to take transit by working with SANDAG to increase transit frequencies and routes," she said.

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Employee Satisfaction Survey

Employee Satisfaction Survey

A survey measures the satisfaction and the commute habits of employees of the city of San Diego.

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RELATED: MTS Hopes Bus Route Overhaul Will Buck Ridership Decline

The city not only subsidizes transit, it also subsidizes driving. Employees generally pay only 25 percent of the prevailing cost of parking at the city's downtown garages. Parking at other city offices is free.

Mark Jacobsen, a UCSD economics professor specializing in transportation and climate change, said subsidized parking and other policies that increase the supply of parking undermine the city's transportation goals.

"These policies help provide enough spaces, but they also encourage greater use of cars — working against efforts to promote alternative transportation," he said.

Bicycling was a relatively rare form of commuting for city employees: Less than one percent of workers rode bikes to work most of the time.

"There's some pretty simple and easy things the city can do to make biking more attractive for their employees, like bike cages and showers at the office," Rosas said. "But really the biggest impact that they're going to have is by implementing safe bike infrastructure, including the downtown mobility plan."

City Council members passed the downtown mobility plan last year. It calls for nine miles of new bike lanes downtown — many of them separated from cars with physical barriers. Mayor Kevin Faulconer has pledged to implement those bike lanes by the summer of 2019.

The city's Climate Action Plan expects hundreds of thousands of commuters to switch from driving cars to biking, walking and riding public transit to work. Cars and trucks are the biggest contributors to climate change in San Diego, accounting for about 53 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.

Photo caption:

A pie graphs shows the percentage of San Diego city employees who drive, bike, walk or ride transit to work.

A survey of city employees found they ride public transit to work at a much higher rate than the city as a whole. San Diego needs hundreds of thousands of commuters to switch from cars to biking, walking and riding transit to meet its climate action goals.

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