Although most municipal employees work in Santa Monica’s transit-rich downtown, just 16% commute by train, bus, bike or walking, according to a report that a local slow-growth advocacy group released Tuesday.
The city of Santa Monica has long emphasized the need to get drivers out of their cars and into sustainable modes of transit that reduce traffic, but two-thirds of city employees continue to drive alone to work, according to the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City report.
Coalition leaders called the city hypocritical for promoting types of transportation that 84% of its own workforce does not use. Instead, they said, the city incentivizes them to drive by offering free employee parking.
“It is the height of hypocrisy, not to mention bad planning, for the city to make it more difficult for residents to drive while at the same time encouraging and rewarding its employees to drive solo by paying for their parking,” SMCLC steering committee members Diana Gordon, Victor Fresco, Jeff Segal and Sherrill Kushner wrote in the report.
SMCLC obtained the data by filing a public records request that captured a memo Planning Director David Martin sent to City Manager Rick Cole last August detailing the results of a survey of 4,481 trips taken by 1,587 city staff in a single week last June. As of September 2018, the city employed 2,170 people, 17% of whom live in Santa Monica, said city spokesperson Constance Farrell.
Almost 67% of trips to and from work were taken by employees driving alone and 9% were taken by staff who carpooled. 3% of trips were made in zero-emissions vehicles and 1% were made by motorcycle.
About 7% of trips were taken by train, 7% by bicycling or walking and 2% by bus. The remaining 2% of trips did not take place because employees telecommuted.
Farrell said the proportion of city employees commuting without a car is more than double the regional average of 7.4%.
The city’s ratio of employees to car trips, or the AVR, is 1.61, well above the regional AVR of 1.35 and the citywide AVR of 1.54 for large employers. But the AVR is down from a high of 1.92 in 2008, according to a 2015 report.
Farrell said the city offers robust green commuter incentives, including biking and walking incentives, transit reimbursement, parking cash-out, a compressed workweek and telecommuting.
“The city of Santa Monica is committed to getting our workforce to green commute,” Farrell said. “We will continue to work with our staff to find green commuting solutions that work for different commuting needs.”
SMCLC leaders said they think the city is making parking more difficult and expensive for residents, workers and visitors while not doing enough to reduce its own workforce’s reliance on cars.
“This is despite SMCLC having repeatedly raised this issue since 2016 in an unsuccessful effort to get the city to reduce this traffic-clogging, environmentally harmful situation,” they said in the report.
The report situates the 3,500 vehicle trips taken by city employees each week in the context of traffic resulting from development downtown and a forthcoming state mandate for Santa Monica to build 9,000 units in the next eight years. The report also notes that the upcoming Plaza at Santa Monica project at 4th Street and Arizona Avenue is projected to bring in 5,000 new car trips each day.
“This projected growth, if it occurs, will be centered on our boulevards and the area around Bergamot, bringing sharply increased traffic into already congested areas,” coalition leaders said.