PORTLAND — The “happiest parkers” in the Maine Medical Center garage are the carpoolers.

The reason, said Steve Hobart, senior manager of security services at the hospital, is that they get prime, indoor spots without paying a cent.

The special treatment for carpoolers is part of Maine Med’s plan to encourage more employees to abandon the solo driving habit and either carpool, vanpool, bike, walk or take public transportation to the hospital through a number of incentives, including discounted bus tickets, bike racks and showers.

The menu of incentives was developed as Maine Med was expanding its parking garage by nearly 500 spaces. The Portland Planning Board asked Maine Med to come up with a plan to reduce the number of cars employees use to get to work, hoping to avoid the need for another expansion in the future.

Creating such a plan is now a requirement for developers and employers putting up an office building that will have more than 50,000 square feet of space or house 100 or more employees.

To make it easier for developers to comply with the rule – and to encourage other employers to adopt voluntary plans – the city is launching a guide on the Web at tdm2go.info/.

The website, which is scheduled to have its launch today, will offer tips and definitions as well as a ready-to-fill-out management plan, complete with a suggested employee survey to gauge the driving habits of workers.

Users also will have tools to help determine whether the number of single-occupant cars among commuters can be cut and by how much.

The site takes a planning requirement and “makes it completely understandable and usable,” said Judy Harris, program officer for Portland’s Office of Transportation Policy.

The downloadable “traffic demand management” plan lays out a step-by-step process for determining how workers currently get to work and helps establish a one-year-goal for reducing single-occupant vehicles.

It then offers strategies for reducing the demand for parking, ranging from discounts on bus passes and on-site shower facilities for walkers and bikers to flexible hours and more telecommuting opportunities.

“We just can’t keep building parking lots in Portland. That’s not a great use for land,” Harris said. Besides, “between gas prices and parking prices, it’s very expensive to drive and park at work.”

A key feature – especially to companies that volunteer to create a traffic demand management plan – is its flexibility, Harris said.

“It’s not all or nothing,” she said. “I’d be thrilled to death if, once a week, people didn’t bring cars to work.”

Hobart agreed. He said Maine Med works with GO MAINE, a program run by the Greater Portland Council of Governments, which offers carpool-forming tools, operates van pools, links up bikers who’d like to ride together and provides taxi vouchers for those who learn on short notice that they have to leave earlier or later than their carpool.

Hobart likes the website idea, saying Maine Med’s experience as the first in Portland to develop a management plan was, at times, “like going through a maze.”

The process for Maine Med is much easier now, he said. New employees get a pamphlet on commuting alternatives, he said, and the program requires minimal management oversight.

“You don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make this work,” he said. “Just buy a few bike racks.”

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]