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LODI — Anyone who lives in the San Joaquin Valley knows there are problems with traffic and air pollution. However, Valley agencies and businesses are working together to tackle the problem with alternative transportation.
The effort to encourage carpooling got a boost in March when the Commute Connection program relaunched as Dibs. Its goal is to create smart travel opportunities that reduce traffic and air pollution, including carpools, vanpools, public transit, walking and biking.
“Commute Connection (now Dibs) has been really instrumental in helping us meet those requirements,” said city of Lodi’s transportation planner Julia Tyack. “What we really use them for is working with rideshare and also providing information to our employees and employees in our community on how they can get to work in alternative ways.”
Dibs has a new website, new program offerings and new promotional and educational tools to engage both businesses and commuters.
Dibs is funded predominantly through a federal grant from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program. All services the organization offers are free.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District requires agencies and businesses with more than 100 employees to provide programs aimed at reducing employee trips.
Tyack said that creating the programs and support information to help employees with rideshare and alternative ways to get to work would be time-consuming if the city had to handle on its own.
“All the cities in San Joaquin County have the same requirement … but we all wear a lot of hats, so I’m really grateful to Commute Connection/Dibs for helping us meet our requirements. We’re able to kind of lean on them,” she said.
A total of 40 city of Lodi employees currently use the program, according to Dibs’ data. Dibs has worked with the city in one capacity or another since its inception. It partners with the organization and Bike Lodi on its annual Bike to Work campaign.
Dibs also offers large employers the ability to create a smart travel program using the online employer toolkit feature. It’s a turnkey solution that addresses parking challenges, gets employees to work on time and assists employers with their sustainability goals.
The rebrand and name change from Commute Connection to Dibs took one year to complete, according to Dibs spokeswoman Kari McNickle. The organization used a series of stakeholder interviews with different industry sectors as well as focus groups in San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties. It also conducted online surveys to redesign its website and create new tools and programs to better serve its communities.
Overall, the goal was to make the entire Dibs experience more consumer-centric, to become more engaging, convenient, easy and fun.
“So far the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re getting a lot of interest,” McNickle said, adding that commuters were signing up within 24 hours of the launch.
When users register, they get access to trip search results, a bike buddy tool, messaging features and eligibility for incentive programs.
One of the new programs offered through Dibs provides free emergency rides home up to four times per year. The need to return home in an emergency is often what keeps employees from ridesharing or biking to work.
“The emergency ride home thing is really important,” Tyack said. “I’m very impressed.”
One focus of the re-launch was making the website, dibsmyway.com, more user-friendly and attractive.
“Because the website is interactive and well done, I think it’s going to convince people to take alternative travel more seriously,” Tyack said. “It really is how you present yourself. How the package looks is really important.”
McNickle said it was time for Dibs to take advantage of new technology such as trip planning software and bring Dibs into the 21st century.
“A lot has changed since 1978,” she said. “A lot of our usage is carpooling and vanpooling.”
However, that doesn’t just mean carpooling to work. Several people use the service for trips to Sacramento and the Bay Area. While Dibs serves three counties, travel is happening among as many as 13 counties, according to McNickle.
She said Dibs’ current client base is diverse, but one of the demographics Dibs is most focused on marketing to is the 18-45 female audience.
“That’s not the only audience we are targeting, but it’s one the research shows would be interested,” she explained.
Dibs applies competitively for funding on an annual basis, according to McNickle.
“Whatever we can do to help improve (air quality), the better,” she said, adding that Dibs also limits traffic congestion and impact to roadways.