JPMorgan Chase wants to cut the number of workers driving to its massive McCoy Center office complex by 1,000 cars. Easier said than done.

Kate Maratea stands out at JPMorgan Chase in Columbus. Three to four times a week, the 24-year-old business resiliency analyst rides a shuttle—provided by the microtransit company Chariot—to the bank's sprawling McCoy Center in the Polaris area. She walks about eight minutes from her Grandview apartment to a stop along Fifth Avenue, where a 14-passenger, Wi-Fi-enabled vehicle picks her up and then deposits her about a half hour later at the southern Delaware County office complex.

The free service for Chase employees launched in January. Maratea finds it convenient and productive, allowing her to relax with a book, read the news or catch up on work rather than drive her own car through rush-hour traffic, especially in the congested Polaris area. “It really takes the stress out of my commute,” Maratea says.

Such comments excite Chase executives, who are attempting a bold experiment at the McCoy Center. One of the largest office buildings in the U.S., the quarter-mile-long, 2-million-square-foot complex houses some 10,000 employees, almost all of whom drive to work everyday by themselves in their own cars. Chase leaders want to change that figure dramatically, reducing the number of cars by 1,000. To do so, however, they must create a major cultural shift in what has long been the epitome of the car-centric corporate campus in central Ohio—a place where even people who live just a mile or so away drive to work.

With the region expected to grow by about 1 million people over the next 30 years, how folks move around the city will need to change to accommodate that larger population. Chase wants to stay ahead of those coming developments, while also responding to more current trends, including a younger generation of employees who are demanding more options for getting to and from work. “We have not only a community responsibility, but it's good for our business, too,” says Corrine Burger, Chase's chief control officer, who oversees the $100 billion bank's Columbus operations.

Central Ohio Transportation Authority CEO Joanna Pinkerton says Chase has no choice but to adapt. “We have been consuming our land at the cost of not looking at how sustainable it is economically,” says Pinkerton, whose organization has discussed with Chase executives expanding bus services to the McCoy Center. Pinkerton says as long as the will is there, Chase can succeed in reimagining its Polaris facility. “I'm absolutely convinced of that,” says Pinkerton, adding, “We cannot double or triple the size of [the facility] to fix it.”

Indeed, the McCoy Center has hit a bit of an impasse. Bank One opened the building in 1996 and then more than doubled its size four years later, making it the largest office complex in central Ohio. After Chase bought Bank One in 2004, the building—named for the late Bank One leader John G. McCoy—has remained the hub of Chase's central Ohio operations. The area's largest employer, Chase has 20,000 workers in the Columbus region, half of whom are housed at the McCoy Center.

A parking squeeze, however, is limiting Chase's ability to add more employees to the facility. Chase is in the middle of a $200 million renovation of the McCoy Center, but Burger says adding to the 8,800 parking spots in the 12 lots and four garages on the Polaris campus isn't on the agenda. The company doesn't see a strong return on investment for making it easier to drive to the McCoy Center, which could worsen the already substantial traffic congestion in the Polaris area. What's more, half of the McCoy Center's employees are millennials, a demographic that is embracing alternative forms of transportation, including bicycles, electric scooters, public transit and ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber. “So where do you invest your time and effort?” asks Burger. “Is it on a parking garage or is it in trying to solve some of the transportation issues? We're investing our time in solving the transportation issues.”

To that end, Burger created a group she calls the “1,000 Car Club” in November 2017. She enlisted about 20 mostly millennial Chase employees to find a way to reduce the number of cars going to the McCoy Center every day by 1,000. “We picked a thousand because we thought it was a stretch goal,” Burger says. “We thought it was meaningful. We thought it would give us variability in the facility if we need it.” She didn't set a deadline for the group, many of whom are analysts or technologists at the bank.

Maratea was enlisted to serve as the chair of the group. The central Ohio native never expected to take on such a task when she accepted a job at Chase two years ago after graduating from Saint Louis University, but she's embraced the challenge. “It's a really cool project because I've gotten to think outside the box,” she says. “Really, no idea has been too out there. We're really trying to consider every commuting option we can think of.”

So far, the biggest transportation change has been the addition of Chariot, the San Francisco-based startup that Ford purchased in 2016. Smart Columbus, the regional public-private smart mobility initiative, connected Chase to Chariot, which started operating six routes for the bank's employees during normal business hours in January. Burger says participation has been “not quite where we'd like it to be,” cutting down on the number of cars by 65 to 70 a day, rather than the 100 or so she hoped for. But ridership did rise during the summer, particularly after the 1,000 Car Club sponsored a “Smart Commuting Week” in late July and early August that raised awareness of Chariot.

Why aren't more Chase employees riding Chariot? According to research conducted by the 1,000 Car Club, driving is still the easiest option for many, which prevents them from making the leap to a different form of commuting, even if they recognize the value of such a change. The other main obstacle appears to be a fear of being stranded. The employees want the flexibility of having their own cars on hand in case of emergencies—maybe a sick child who needs to be taken home from school. As Columbus grows, the convenience of driving will become a less serious barrier to entry, as the increased population makes driving more difficult. To address the fear-of-being-stranded barrier, Chase is exploring the possibility of providing to employees free emergency rides from a ride-sharing service like Lyft or Uber. “I'm pretty optimistic that we'll be able to offer that in the near future,” says Tony Anzic, Chase's Columbus location manager and an advisor to the 1,000 Car Club. Chase is also considering developing an app that would help employees carpool. The app could be built in-house or by an outside consultant, Anzic says.

Chase leaders aren't in a huge rush to achieve their ambitious 1,000-car goal. They know such a change is more complicated than, say, erecting a new parking garage. “It's not going to be solved overnight,” Burger says.

Dave Ghose is the editor.

Photos by Rob Hardin

Photo captions:

Kate Maratea

JPMorgan Chase's McCoy Center