In a time when companies across industries are struggling to attract top talent, health insurance and retirement are a given. Transportation to and from work is a benefit more companies are exploring.
CoverMyMeds, a perennial winner of top workplaces awards, is piloting free rides to and from work, bolstering a big year for Columbus-based mobility services startup Share as employers embrace funding transportation as a work perk.
The Columbus technology company founded to automate prior authorizations for prescriptions began a three-month pilot in July for employees living in a 7.5-mile radius around Downtown, where its headquarters are based at Miranova and a secondary office is at 41 S. High St. About 30 percent of CoverMyMeds’ more than 1,000 employees expressed interest in such a service following a week of mobility-related discussion and activities at its offices, said Ryan McManus, Share’s CEO.
Workers schedule their rides in advance using an app and Share’s software coordinates pickups and drop-offs in Honda Odyssey minivans or full-size Ford Transit vehicles.Stay up to date with the region’s movers and shakers, top employers, philanthropic causes, real estate developments and thriving creative and startup scenes. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.
Jenn Beck, campus coordinator at CoverMyMeds, submitted the idea for the Share partnership to CoverMyMeds leadership and now rides to work each day from her south Clintonville home, scheduling her pickups for the week each Sunday.
“It’s been great—I ended up riding with the same people every morning and I’ve gotten to know a lot of coworkers that I never met before,” Beck said. “We actually have started having lunch together.”
In a time when companies across industries are struggling to attract top talent, health insurance and retirement are a given. Transportation to and from work is a benefit more companies are exploring. Locally, workers in the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District can ride Central Ohio Transit Authority buses for free thanks to the C-pass program funded by property owners and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. The program is aimed at freeing up parking spaces downtown.
Share, founded three years ago, will top an estimated $3 million in revenue this year, McManus said. It’s grown to 115 employees and 70 vehicles operating in Columbus and Cleveland, with plans to expand to Detroit, Indianapolis and Atlanta this year. Employer-sponsored rides are no small part of that.
“For growing organizations, transportation is now something that has gone from, ‘We’ve never even thought of this’ to ‘Our employees are asking for it,’ ” he said.
The shift in thinking and in behavior definitely has seen its share of bumps in the road. Chariot, the work-ride program operated by Ford and used by employers in multiple metropolitan areas including by JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s McCoy Center compound near Polaris, shut down early this year after struggling with profitability and ridership. Chase has said it is looking at options to replace the service, including Share.
“Now we have to answer the question [of] how are we going to be successful when somebody else so big couldn’t?” McManus said. He says Share has built a “fundamentally different company with a different product.” While Chariot involved a bus-stop style of operation that asked employees to gather in public parking lots for their pickups, Share offers the flexibility of door-to-door service in densely populated areas in addition to the bus-stop model. Door-to-door works for the startup because it asks people to schedule their rides in advance, making operations predictable and efficient.
Four of the 10 largest employers in Columbus are now using its service, McManus said. Huntington Bank is using the company for door-to-door rides to its Downtown offices for employees living in far-flung suburbs, with a 5 or 6 percent adoption rate among the group that’s been invited to participate. As its workforce grows, spurring parking issues at its East Broad Street offices, State Auto Insurance Cos. has contracted with Share to bring employees to work from virtual bus stops all around city.
In Dublin, more than 20 employers are participating in a last-mile program giving employees Share rides to work from COTA bus stops, which may be a mile or more from their destinations. Companies that have signed on include Cardinal Health, Stanley Steemer, AC Hotel by Marriott, Fiserv, OCLC, WD Partners, Friendship Village and Home2 Suites by Hilton, McManus said.
“We are getting people to change their behaviors and plan transportation in advance and share their rides,” McManus said. “What we’re really going to be able to do is create an environment in which people can live without a car.”
That’s music to Kenny McDonald’s ears. The CEO of economic development agency Columbus 2020 said it’s still early enough for the region to avoid the congestion experienced by many metro areas as they grow.
“Commutes get longer, mobility gets limited or segmented,” McDonald said. “We have a unique opportunity to look at this in an asymmetric way,” attracting a base of high-paying, high-value employers.
“It’s an interesting time around the country with the competition for talent continuing to increase for every type of employer,” he said. “They traditionally have competed with wages and benefits, and there are other things the workforce now is considering part of that. One of those things is, if I don’t have to buy a car, the wages I’m paid are going further.”
McManus, with a background in corporate marketing and something he called “intrapreneurship”— working inside big companies to drive innovation— says he and his wife, Hoa, launched Share when they realized they could build a mobility services company amid a dying industry.
“New mobility is the single greatest opportunity in our lifetimes,” he said.
Katy Smith is the editor of Columbus CEO.