“What if something happens?”
A family emergency is one of those common theoretical fears that keep some people from biking to work. Many local transportation agencies and employers offer “Emergency Ride Home” or “Guaranteed Ride Home” programs to help alleviate that fear and encourage commuters to try a form of transportation other than the Single Occupant Vehicle (SOV)
People who bike long distances to work or take a carpool or public transportation may lose time and flexibility with their choice of ‘alternative’ transportation. In many areas, for example, transit scheduling drops off dramatically outside of commute times. Sometimes, employees are asked to work overtime during crunch time, and they miss their carpool or the last train out of town.
When you get a phone call from the neighbor about a broken water pipe, how do you rush out to take care of the problem?
Many urban areas with some kind of Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Program that encourages non-SOV travel will offer a Guaranteed Ride Home (GRH) program. GRH is used for a personal or family emergency or illness, unscheduled overtime, or unexpected departure of your carpool or vanpool driver. GRH cannot be used for pre-scheduled appointments (i.e. a dentist appointment), weather emergencies, pre-arranged overtime, or business travel. I presume Caltrain-vs-car delays aren’t covered.
When an emergency occurs, a typical program offers a free taxi ride. You either give the cabbie a voucher from the Guaranteed Ride Home program, show him your employee badge or transit pass, or pay for the ride and apply for reimbursement. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where long commutes are common, GRH programs have rental cars available for emergency use.
Guaranteed Ride Home Caveats
Probably most GRH I’ve surveyed apply only to people who ride transit, carpool or vanpool to the office, or you may need to be employed by a company that participates in the regional TDM plan. Most GRH programs require some kind of pre-registration, and some have requirements such as you must use alternative transportation at least twice weekly. Programs have usage limits, such as two emergency rides annually. Fiscal oversight seems minimal, but I still recommend against abusing the system and saving it only for true emergencies.
Guaranteed Ride Home Examples
- San Francisco Bay Area: Every Bay Area County except Santa Clara County offers a Guaranteed Ride Home program. GRH is offered to cyclists working in Contra Costa, Alameda, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma Counties. In all of these counties, either the worker or the employer (or sometimes both) must be registered with the agency offering the program. The other counties offer GRH either to vanpool members or transit pass holders.
For these Bay Area programs, the commuter calls the contracted cab company and pays for the trip with voucher. Some counties (San Mateo, for example), will rent a car for those who must travel more than 25 miles from the office.
- Santa Cruz CA Regional Transportation Commission offers RideSurance for all commuters who live or work in Santa Cruz County, and it’s good for cyclists, walkers, carpool, vanpool, and transit riders. You pay $10 for the emergency cab ride home.
- Monterey County CA Emergency Guaranteed Ride Home service will reimburse county workers or residents up to $60 for your cab ride home. Pre-registration required.
- Missoula Montana has a Guaranteed Ride Home program for employees of participating companies, transit pass holders and members of the Way 2 Go club, Missoula’s program to encourage alternate modes of transportation.
- cyclists in the entire state of Maine are covered with GO MAINE Emergency Ride Home. You register with their commute program as a cyclist, and choose either a taxi cab or rental car depending on your travel distance when emergency strikes.
- Portland OR cyclists who work for participants of TriMet Universal Pass Program can get a cab ride for emergencies.
- Washington DC Metro Area employees who live within the “Guaranteed Ride Home Service Area” can get a ride home through this Commuter Connections GRH program.
How to find?
Guaranteed Ride Home is a fairly arcane benefit. Many GRH services are offered through the employer, but many HR people will return a blank stare in response to questions about GRH. Start with HR, if they know, great. If not, find whoever is in charge of transportation benefits or transportation demand management, if such a thing exists with your company. Search your corporate intranet and you might get lucky.
If that fails, Google “Guaranteed Ride Home” or “Emergency Ride Home” and your city, county or region name. Expect to surf through a few dead links until you find a page with the right information. You might also search for Guaranteed Ride Home and the name of your local or regional public transportation provider. Guaranteed Ride Home is offered, for example, by DART in Dallas and ACE in San Jose.
If you live or work in any “urbanized area” with a population greater than 50,000 people in the United States (i.e. 82% of the U.S. population, and 95% of you who read Cyclelicious), your city is covered by a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The MPO handles transportation planning. They might not directly offer a GRH service, but they’ll hopefully have information about the transportation agencies in your area that offer GRH. Transportation planning around the Dallas / Fort Worth region, for example, is covered by the North Central Texas Council of Governments, where you’ll discover GRH offered in Tarrant County (to vanpool and “The T” riders). The Denver / Boulder region MPO is DRCOG.
In the decade or so since I first learned I could use GRH, I’ve only been halfway tempted to use the service only once, and even then I ended up taking public transportation.