In 1999, a partnership was created between the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the (then) Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the City of Ann Arbor, and the (then) Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce called the getDowntown Program. This independent entity, housed in the Chamber offices, was formed to plan and implement a new bus pass program in order to provide an alternative for commuters who would no longer have a place to park in the downtown garages due to a renovation and reconstruction campaign.
The pilot program provided 11,300 passes to over four hundred downtown businesses over two years. Participants in the pilot program reported that a third of the participating employees increased their use of TheRide and one in ten reduced their drive-alone commute. The program was selected to continue permanently in 2001, eventually adding on additional support for walking, biking, telecommuting, ridesharing (carpools and vanpools), alternative work hours, skiing, running, kayaking, and any other method of commuting that involves not driving alone to work.
The program has evolved over time, moved homes, and found new ways to support downtown businesses and their employees. We started a Curb Your Car Month in May, which turned into the popular Commuter Challenge. We introduced the swipe pass in 2011, speeding the boarding process and making access to the bus system smoother. 2011 was also the first year that the business “co-pay” was introduced to the program, in order to create some equity for businesses to participate in supporting the commutes of their employees.
With the renovation to the Blake Transit Center, the program was permanently moved to the office space on the second floor in 2014, affording the community an easily accessible and central location that connected right into the most popular offering of getDowntown, the go!pass. And finally in 2015, we took the Commuter Challenge online, creating a platform for participants to log their commutes and compete with each other.
Prior to 2020, the program distributed more than 5,000 passes every year to around 400 businesses. Over 600,000 trips were taken with TheRide in 2018-2019, roughly saving over 1,200 parking spots in the downtown parking system per day. We now run two events each year, the Conquer the Cold Challenge for individuals every January to pair with the Commuter Challenge team event. Between the two events, there were over 2,800 competitors in 2019, and that includes in the middle of some of the worst January weather we’ve seen!
We also help all sorts of other commuters find their way towards improving their commutes, whether it is working with the business on their options, helping employees plan their trips, or in working with our partners to support improvements to downtown that help encourage coming to work in ways that aren’t just driving alone.
But what makes this program special is the relationships. We’re always willing to come talk to a business manager or owner, a group of employees, or even an entire building about how to look at your commute in a way that has you asking “do I need to drive alone into work today”? If you are interested in having us work with you to support that relationship, contact us. We’ll make a time to chat, and we’ll even bring the food.