Windy City PR Pro Lands at ASC

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Direct from work in Chicago for the Swedish American Museum, Chicago Sister Cities International Gothenburg Committee and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Lesli Proffitt Nordstrom joined ASC as a Public Relations/Outreach Associate less than two months ago and has already supported outreach and events for the City of White Plains Transit District Study and the New York Power Authority Innovators Summit. Here are 10 things to know about ASC’s newest employee:

1 – From a small town in Kentucky, Lesli is a life-long Wildcats fan in college basketball season. Go Cats!

2 – She helped create a statistical reporting method on property saved by New York City’s Fire Department, a tool later used to inform the public and lawmakers about the value of FDNY’s work.

3 – She was a Senior Editor for the Journal of International Affairs while earning her masters in international affairs at Columbia University.

4 – Lesli is a dual citizen of the United States and Sweden. She’s fluent in Swedish, which means she excels at correctly pronouncing all the product names from the IKEA catalog.

5 – She was a Fulbright Scholar in Sweden studying the impact of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld’s “quiet diplomacy.”

6 – Lesli loves research! Diving in to any subject is a delight. Just ask her about urban water towers.

7 – She’s traveled to 26 states, Canada, Mexico, Japan, England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Andorra, Belgium, the Netherlands, Morocco, Egypt, the Gambia, Russia, Austria and Sweden.

8 – In her free time, she likes to go hiking with her family.

9 – She competed in a middle school science fair testing the strength of different bridge designs (made of Balsa wood). She still thinks bridges are very cool.

10 – Lesli recently bought a house and has big plans to make the house more energy efficient, which has her reading about solar panels, geothermal systems and more.

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It’s easier to choose transit when your wheels are an app away

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I’m now a believer: There’s an app for everything. My epiphany came in the form of a little-known app called DropCar and since signing up three months ago, I’ve used my car fewer times than I have fingers, and having my car out of sight is also keeping it—and cars in general—out of mind. I find myself opting for public transit more and more often. Before DropCar, I would have been likely to use my car when I visit a client, navigating traffic in a new city and coughing an ever-increasing share of emissions into the air. No more.

So here’s how this brilliant business idea works—you download the app, choose monthly parking, and for one flat monthly fee have your own personal valet service up to 10 times at your beck and call. DropCar sends someone to pick up your car—wherever you are in NYC, and whenever you want—and that’s about it. They park it somewhere safe and store it until you want your car back. Now get this—not only do they always arrive on time, but they send you a text when they’re a few minutes away with the name and photo of the driver, and if you need the car parked for a short time nearby, they’ll do that, too.

DropCar was probably developed to compete against costly in-city garages, but the unintended consequence is real behavior change. For now, I’m going car-lite over car-less, but each day I don’t use my car I become less reliant on my wheels, so much so that I’m starting to think of joining all those millennials out there and jumping on the car-free bandwagon.

Part of our work at Arch Street Communications is helping public agencies and private companies advance programs that help reduce emissions to improve air quality, and one thing we know for certain: it’s not easy to get people to change the way they feel or act about certain things, like our love affair with our cars.

New ideas, like DropCar, challenge the status quo. The target market for a service like DropCar is clearly city-dwellers in transit-blessed locations. But air quality programs across the country can gain much from DropCar’s success in helping the market see a new behavior as having a higher value than their current one. It may just be the ideal air quality marketing equation: a system that allows you to store, not give up, your car, letting the customer hang onto that four-wheeled lifeline as they learn to swap driving alone for new behaviors that hand over rich rewards, like cleaner air and a healthier lifestyle.

Anyone looking for a good used car?

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The Many Advantages of Commuter Benefit Programs

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This year, there’s big news for employers who offer—and employees who receive—pre-tax commuter benefits. On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed into law a year-end transportation package that included a provision to increase commute benefits. The maximum pre-tax benefit allowance rose to $255 per month in 2016—a modest increase from $250 for parking but a substantial increase for transit, up from $130! Can you say cha-ching?

An estimated 2.7 million employees nationwide currently receive pre-tax commuter benefits, and that number is expected to jump in 2016 as major cities hop on the mandated commuter benefit program train.

As of January 1, 2016, employers located in New York City and Washington, D.C., with 20 employees or more, are required to offer a commuter benefit program. This mandate follows in the footsteps of San Francisco, which began its program in 2009 and expanded in 2014 to include Bay Area employers.

To comply, employers must offer at least one of the following transportation benefits, with requirements varying by city:

   Employee-paid pre-tax transit benefit: Employees use pre-tax funds for transit fares (NYC, DC, San Francisco, and Bay Area)

•   Employer-paid direct benefit: Employers subsidize transit and vanpool fares for commuting (DC, San Francisco, and Bay Area)

   Employer-provided transit: Provide complimentary shuttle or vanpool services to employees (DC, San Francisco, and Bay Area)

•   Combination of options above or equally effective employer provided benefit (San Francisco and Bay Area)

 Employees Benefit

Robust commuter benefit programs impact employees’ daily travel decisions by making alternative transportation options, such as public transit, carpool, vanpool, bicycling, easy and affordable. With the money employees save on commuting costs, employees see an increase in disposable income.

Utilizing alternative commute modes is physically and mentally healthy. Individuals who commute via alternative modes are typically more active and less stressed than those who travel in single-occupancy vehicles.

 Employers Benefit

According to a study by the TransitCenter, a non-profit mass transit advocacy group, employers who have implemented commuter programs have experienced an increase in employee job satisfaction, employee retention, and recruiting success.

The pre-tax commuter benefit saves the employer money because they don’t have to outlay payroll taxes of 7.65% on every dollar set aside by employees pre-tax. With decreases in payroll taxes, employers may see up to 9% savings for each employee participating in the program.

 Mother Earth Benefits

Mandated commuter benefit programs encourage employees to ditch their car and take transit, bike, walk, or join a car/van pool to get to work, helping to reduce rush hour demands on congested roadways and harmful emissions.

Approximately 90,000 commuters participated in San Francisco’s commuter benefits program in 2013.  The program resulted in a reduction of CO2 emissions by an estimated 290,000 metric tons, with an average of 123,538 gallons of gas saved, and a daily average vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction of 2,903,136 miles. You can find out your company’s reduced VMT the free calculator offered by Commuter Connections, a regional network of transportation organizations coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

At ASC, however we go, we like to go green and save green. With more than half of our staff utilizing alternative commute modes, we know first-hand how beneficial it can be. How do you travel to and from the office?

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