Mandated survey will require employee participation
The University will participate in a comprehensive program designed to bring the greater Chicago metropolitan area into compliance with the Federal Clean Air Act of 1990. The goal of the act is to reduce by 25 percent the number of people who commute to work by car in Chicago by July 1998. The first step is a state-mandated survey of employee commuting habits, said Erica Landsberg, Assistant General Counsel in the Office of Legal Counsel. She said it is crucial that every employee of the University participate in the survey.
The survey will be issued to every company in the greater Chicago area that employs more than 100 people.
Employees will be asked to give an account of how they traveled to work each morning for one week. Based on the survey, a ratio of the number of employees to the number of cars driven will be calculated. This number is termed the Average Vehicle Occupancy (AVO). For example, if every person who worked at the University drove to work alone five days a week, the AVO for the University would be 1.0. The number goes up for every person who carpools, walks, bicycles, takes mass transportation or telecommutes. It is also increased by employees who work a compressed work week (40 hours in four days instead of five) or do not drive to work between the hours of 6 and 10 a.m. The goal is to meet or exceed an AVO of 1.36. The current AVO for the greater metropolitan area is 1.09.
The University must file its results within 90 days after it receives the surveys from the state.
"Unless people fill out this survey -- and it should only take five minutes -- it's going to cost the University a lot of money," Landsberg said. The fine for noncompliance is $10,000 plus $1,000 a day until the requirements are met.
To avoid fines, the University must return surveys from at least 75 percent of its employees. But employees beyond the 75 percent, and up to 90 percent, who do not return the survey will be counted as driving alone to work every day. "If we don't get 90 percent of the surveys back, there's almost no way we can meet the AVO requirement," Landsberg said.
If the University doesn't meet the AVO requirement mandated by the state, it must submit a comprehensive plan to increase the number of employees who take alternate forms of transportation.
"Almost any University measure that could be taken to improve the AVO would be costly in one fashion or another," Landsberg said. Possibilities include increasing the incentives for taking mass transportation and reducing the amount of parking available on campus.
"Even if we meet the goal, we will have to submit a plan for maintenance of the AVO, but that will be a lot less burdensome," she said.
The good news, according to Lynn Bender, Director of Facilities Planning & Management, is that it's likely the University already meets the AVO of 1.36. "We have a very large number of faculty and staff members living within walking distance of campus. We already provide several supplemental transportation alternatives, including the morning and evening buses and the Hospitals' shuttle to and from the Loop, and we encourage anyone who is in convenient walking distance of campus to walk," he said. "We already exercise our institutional responsibility to encourage people to choose alternate methods of transportation.
"But," he emphasized, "without the data in hand, we don't know where we stand. We're hoping that we are going to be in compliance."
The state had originally planned to begin dispersing surveys in early February, but that date has been pushed back, and no new date has been set, according to Susan Stitt, air-quality manager for the Illinois Department of Transportation Office of Planning and Programming. Once the program begins, it will take 18 months to send the surveys out to all of the 6,000 or so employers in the greater metropolitan Chicago area. At this point, Stitt said, it's unclear who will get the surveys first.
The proposed plan has generated some negative publicity because a similar program in Los Angeles has ended up costing a great deal of money without substantially reducing the number of people who commute to work by car. "We're attempting to learn from some of the problems that they've encountered in L.A.," Stitt said. Aware of grumblings, too, that the survey will cost too much time and money, Stitt said, "We're trying to minimize the perceived burden on the business community as much as possible."
The surveys are the state's attempt to bring the Chicago region into compliance with the Clean Air Act standard for ozone, a key ingredient in smog. The Chicago area, along with urban areas of 10 other states, was identified as being in "severe non-attainment" with federal standards.
When the surveys arrive, the University intends to respond swiftly, Landsberg said. "We will have to move quickly, since we will have just 90 days to distribute the surveys, collect them, tabulate the results and formulate either a compliance plan or a maintenance plan. We're hoping that all employees will do their part by filling out and returning the surveys as quickly as possible.
"It's the law and we're going to comply," said Landsberg. "And if it helps reduce air pollution, that's a good thing."