Columbia University’s Manhattanville Construction Promotes Carpooling

Monday, June 1, 2015

Nayo Edem from Lend Lease (left) speaks with Dan Allalemdjian, director of transportation demand management at Columbia University, about carpooling.

If technology can deliver on the challenge to match a romantic with her true love, then helping a construction worker find a carpool commuting buddy would seemingly be a snap.

Such was the thinking when Columbia University introduced the Carma carpooling app to the construction workforce at its new campus at Manhattanville in West Harlem – a workforce now at more than 800 workers and growing.

The goal of encouraging carpooling among workers, according to Dan Allalemdjian, director of transportation demand management at Columbia University, is to minimize traffic congestion in the neighborhood, reduce emissions, and offer workers less expensive ways to get to the job site.

“While we continue to encourage workers to utilize New York’s rich mass transit network, most people are already familiar with the mass transit options available to them,” said Allalemdjian. “By promoting carpooling, we are facilitating a new alternative beyond single occupancy vehicles for workers for whom mass transit is not a viable option for them.”

Carpooling brings workers indisputable benefits financially, with the ability to share with others the cost of gas and tolls. Through the Carma app, workers can search for people who have signed up in their neighborhood and are commuting near to where they are going. The app can also automatically calculate ride costs to make it easy for carpoolers to split gas, and it calculates environmental benefits such as carbon emissions saved.

In addition, the New York State Department of Transportation has instituted a Guaranteed Ride Program, which offers carpoolers who register with the state reimbursement costs of up to $40 if there is an emergency to them or the driver of their carpool.

Despite those advantages, people are creatures of habit and often hesitant to break from their established routines.

“The Carma app makes the entire process of carpooling easier, with the ultimate hope that it lowers the potential barriers enough that workers give carpooling a try,” said Allalemdjian.

Carpool recruitment began during the spring Safety Week at the Manhattanville site in May. During Safety Week, workers participated in a site evacuation drill and reviewed safety procedures and policies. In addition, the construction manager handed out awards to workers who went above and beyond in making the construction site safer for themselves and their fellow workers.

Seventy construction workers completed a survey on current transportation patterns during Safety Week, providing a baseline on which to track progress on the goal to reduce the number of drive-alone commuters. Only three percent of the workers surveyed currently commute via carpool, compared with 40 percent who drive alone.

The carpooling initiative is being led by Columbia’s Manhattanville Development Group and the University’s Office of Environmental Stewardship, in conjunction with construction partners.