As noted earlier this week, our Commuter Cafe carpool concept was a finalist in the Marketing & Outreach category for public entities. We didn’t win (a commuter club concept from a transportation management association in southern Nevada did), but it was pretty cool to get some recognition from our peers anyway.

The news release is after the jump.

A new carpool promotional program implemented by UCLA was named a finalist in the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT) Marketing & Outreach Award competition, announced Renee A. Fortier, director of UCLA Transportation.

Called Commuter Café, the effort was an innovative marketing approach that used hands-on strategy to forge carpools, Fortier said.

Commuter Café was developed to help customers feel more at ease in forming carpools and finding potential partners, by introducing them in a relaxed, casual atmosphere.

“In the familiar atmosphere of the Commuter Café’s simulated coffee house, participants casually got to know each other and shared their commuting stories and needs,” explained Penny Menton, Associate Director of UCLA Transportation.

Commuters chatting with one another at a Commuter Cafe in 2009.

Over the past year, UCLA Transportation held both origin-based and destination-based Commuter Cafe to promote carpooling as well as other alternative forms of transportation, thus reducing drive-alone rate at UCLA.

The department also targeted locations not well-served by existing transit or vanpool modes as well as campus entities, such as professional schools and areas with high concentrations of employees/satellite locations were targeted for the destination-based sessions. These included employees from the South Bay and the San Fernando Valley, as well as students from the Anderson School of Management.

According to Menton, UCLA Transportation developed the Commuter Cafe program to leverage the benefits of carpooling – such as increased morale and productivity, reduced absenteeism, and cost savings – while combating factors that deter carpool formation, such as hesitancy in forming carpool with strangers.

Menton also added that UCLA Transportation sought to help commuters find ways to cut costs in our bleak economic times.

Anderson School of Management students responded most strongly to the Commuter Cafe. Carpool rates amongst Anderson students increased by 83% during the span of the 2009-2010 school year.

The Association for Commuter Transportation is the leading trade association in the field of transportation demand management. Previously, ACT has recognized UCLA Transportation’s work in promoting alternative transportation modes to its campus populatio,  including the Vanpool + One concept, MyRide, and the 2007 Sustainability Fair.