Kristin Howard, left, and Katie Sihler, goDCgo program director. GoDCgo markets public transportation options to District residents and businesses in an effort to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)
July 21, 2013

Seven years ago, goDCgo got started with $150,000 and a basic Web site with directions on how people could get around downtown D.C. without a car.

Today, goDCgo — a program created by the D.C. Department of Transportation to market sustainable transportation options to people who work and play in the District — is a sophisticated marketing machine.

GoDCgo staffers advise several hundred local employers and businesses on how they can help employees and customers reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality by using public transit. The $1.3 million program, funded primarily by the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program, is now preparing to expand.

Last year, goDCgo staffers attended 70 transportation and health and wellness fairs to reach out to employers, and worked with more than 700 companies in the District to design transit benefit programs and other ways to encourage employees to take public transportation. The group also consults with area businesses to encourage customers to take public transit instead of driving. That includes, for example, posting the closest Metro, bus and Capital Bikeshare stations on the “directions to” section of their Web sites.

Now, the Rosslyn-based goDCgo is looking to create similar public relations campaigns targeting the region’s universities and residents of condo and apartment buildings in hopes of getting more people to use Metro, buses, bikes, Car2Go, Zipcar and other modes of transportation that help reduce traffic congestion. The program’s staff of seven — marketing specialists, Web operators and an employer services officer — plan to add two more consultants within the next three months to oversee the new university and residential building initiatives, said Katie Sihler, program director of goDCgo.

“The residential program will focus on tenants,” Sihler said. “The university program will be unique in that they have multiple target markets. You’re looking at students, alumni, parents, faculty and staff. They all have different needs and interests, so it’s working with each of those groups and finding out their needs and how we can encourage the use of sustainable transportation options for that audience.”

Sihler is an employee of Destination Sales and Marketing Group, an Arlington marketing firm that has handled similar campaigns for Arlington County public transit since the 1990s, said Anna McLaughlin of DDOT. Sihler was hired by District government as a consultant to manage goDCgo.

Between March 2012 and February 2013, goDCgo reduced nearly 32,000 vehicle trips and 18,465 gallons of gas — which saved $25.4 million (based on the average 2012 gasoline price in the Central Atlantic region, $3.763), according to data gathered by program officials.

For some companies, goDCgo creates at-a-glance charts or lists that employers can post in common areas at work that show employees how to find a carpool, or which metro and bus lines are closest to the office. The program’s main online hub, goDCgo.com, links to all the public transit systems in the city.

For major events that draw crowds of tourists, such as the National Cherry Blossom Festival and Nike Women’s Marathon, goDCgo is tapped to make sure the event Web sites have the most up-to-date information about transportation options.

“A lot of what we do is try to promote the diversity of [transit] options that are available to people living in the District,” Sihler said. “You’re marketing behavior change more than you are a specific transportation mode or looking at the metro as a product. You’re encouraging people to change the way they’ve been moving around the city and to look at different options, and that’s always a little more of a challenge than marketing a direct product.”

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for the Capital Business section of The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.
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