A Mercedes-Benz pulled up to the commuter lot at 7:30 a.m. Thursday and whisked Michele Wetschko away—not to a concert or a black-tie dinner, but to work, nearly 50 miles away.
It was just another day for Wetschko (pictured) and five others from in and around New Haven who work for TicketNetwork and sister company RCN, which decided to offer the stylish shuttle service to help out current employees and lure new ones.
Friendly personal driver? Check. Vehicle manufactured by a luxury car maker? Check. As Beyoncé would say, “Driver roll up the partition, please.”
So there’s no partition, or even a mini-fridge, but riding in a 12-passenger Mercedes Sprinter wasn’t a bad way to travel to the job Thursday.
It certainly beat driving, said TicketNetwork engineering manager Nathan Strom (pictured), who also was picked up at the North Haven commuter lot. He has worked for the company, which provides a platform for people to buy and sell tickets from each other for a small fee, for five and a half years, and knows well the cost associated with driving nearly 100 miles round-trip to work and back home every day.
“It’s nice,” he said of riding the shuttle. “I just sit back and read. I get a lot of reading done. It’s easier when you’re not the one driving.”
Connecticut Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick said the state encourages companies to help employees commute. Though ConnDOT doesn’t keep track, it is aware that some large companies work together to stagger their shift release times to help alleviate traffic congestion, he said. He called TicketNetwork/RCN’s another helpful approach.
“It helps with congestion on the road and alleviates pressure on the infrastructure,” he said. “We support that especially in the cities.”
While Strom likes to read on the way to work, software engineer Daniel King (pictured) said he prefers to catch up on his sleep.
“It’s nice that I don’t have to drive when I’m tired,” King said before he grabbed the pillow and blanket he keeps stashed in the shuttle and got comfortable.
Peter Gutierrez, assistant vice president for network operations, is a fairly new TicketNetwork shuttle rider. He was picked up at the Stop and Shop parking lot on Amity Road. Gutierrez said he uses the commute time to get ready for the day ahead.
“I have my laptop and I actually work,” he said. “I’ve already sent five or six emails. It lets me prepare for the day.”
Commuting to Recruiting
King, who has worked for the South Windsor company for a year and a half, said before the shuttle, he carpooled with other TicketNetwork employees from New Haven to save gas.
When company higher-ups discovered a little over a year ago that their employees were working together to save money on gas and help each other get to work, a decision was made to hire a driver and buy a van for a shuttle.
Mike Brown, vice president of human resources, said the company—an online middleman for ticket sellers and buyers—concluded that a free ride to work could be a decent recruiting tool for attracting bright students from New Haven area colleges and universities for internships and entry-level jobs with the company. Brown estimated that the company has about 20 employees from New Haven; it is committed to expanding that number and making sure they all have a ride to work.
“We’re a company that wants to bring in good talent into the organization,” Brown said. “We want to be open to new markets for the company and we want to address the hurdles that need to be overcome to do that.”
Transportation can be one of those hurdles when you’re new in your career. Frederic Morris Jr., a new accountant at TicketNetwork’s sister company RCN, said he didn’t know about the shuttle service when he decided to apply for a position, but he’s glad he knows about it now. RCN provides loans to people who rehab property and sell it.
An MBA student at Southern Connecticut State University, he takes the shuttle three times a week. He drives on Tuesdays and Thursdays because he has class, but he said the perk puts his company on par with Google.
“It helps a lot with the deterioration on my car and it allows me to adjust to the corporate environment,” he said. “It’s a great perk.”
Shuttle riding isn’t always perfect. Gutierrez said when he first rode the shuttle he was not pleased at how many stops it made. When the shuttle initially began it picked people up in front of their homes; now it has designated pick-up areas where riders can park their cars and hop on.
Wetschko, who works on the German side of the international department, said she likes to take the shuttle to save on gas too. But some days the shuttle—which leaves headquarters 6:30 a.m. for the morning run and returns from the evening run at 6:30 p.m.—doesn’t fit with her schedule. Fortunately, she knows when she needs to stay late and drives on those days.
Darnell Goldson, the company’s public relations coordinator and former New Haven alder who also takes the shuttle, said the shuttle is a good tool for employee retention and recruitment, and also a part of the company’s overall mission and culture of providing expanded employee benefits. Goldson said the company has no hardship finding Hartford based employees, but it’s got its sights set on recruiting in New Haven for two reasons: It’s colleges are fertile ground for high tech recruits and potential for expanded customer base.
He said the company took on the shuttle as not just a way to help employees enjoy a higher quality of life, or to help the company recruit new talent, but also as a way to help the environment.
The company headquarters in South Windsor has a working farm and gardens on its premises. Some of the produce is used in the company cafeteria and given freely to employees, so taking a few individual personal cars off the road is in line with a commitment to be a good neighbor to the communities where it exists and where its employees live.
Goldson said the company is looking for a similar shuttle solution for its call center employees who work shifts beyond 6:30 p.m.
“We’re trying to do our part,” he said.