(WOODMEN) Work starts soon on widening of I-25 'Gap' south of Denver

Looking north toward Castle Rock, heavy traffic moves along Interstate 25.

It looks like the state has backed off its attempt to micromanage the commute to work for Colorado’s largest employers. The policy now will be largely voluntary.

The turnabout was announced Monday followed an outcry from employers and business groups over the costs, red tape and loss of individual choice under the pending plan. It would have been imposed by bureaucrats at the state health department under their rule-making authority.

A round of applause is in order for Gov. Jared Polis, who no doubt made a timely phone call to redirect the relevant players in his administration. Polis is a phenomenally successful entrepreneur who was pioneering internet retail in the 1990s, almost before he could shave. He knows what it takes to build and maintain a business — and how clumsy, overreaching, one-size-fits-all regulations can undermine our economy’s job creators.

Clumsy, overreaching and one-size-fits-all aptly describe the mandate the state called off this week. The handiwork of the health department’s Air Quality Control Commission, it would have required larger employers in the Denver metro area to “increase parking charges” for employees’ personal gasoline-powered vehicles. The businesses would have had to appoint an “Employee Transportation Coordinator” to administer programs that reduce each company’s “single occupied vehicle” commutes. And they would have had to provide employees fully or partially subsidized bus and light-rail passes.

To reduce “single occupied vehicle” trips during peak commuting hours, the targeted employers would have had to offer employees options including shuttles; flexible schedules; perks to those who drive electric vehicles; carpooling and ride-sharing; bike parking and showers, and as noted, passes for public transit.

The goal of the mandate was to further reduce Colorado’s carbon emissions by taking vehicles off the road. That may pose an intuitive appeal, but the real-world likelihood of it actually having an impact on the climate was a long shot given all the variables in play in such a complicated policy. On the other hand, the policy would have had a guaranteed impact — and a negative one — on the cost of doing business.

Some 2,764 businesses with some 900,000 employees would have had to develop plans by next Jan. 1 to meet the new law’s expectations. As The Gazette also reported, that could have cost anywhere from $7,200 to $811,643 annually for each of those businesses. Not surprisingly, plenty of the business community was alarmed. Major players in industry and commerce made their fears clear as the August date for finalizing the new regulations approached.

As reported by The Gazette, the health department on Monday sent a letter to employers and business groups stating: “After reviewing the various pre-hearing statements in this rule-making, the state recognizes that many of the businesses, employees, and local communities that will be impacted by the rule have concerns about the Employer Traffic Reduction Program ... as currently proposed.”

Under the pending revisions, the only requirement now, due next year, will be a survey of employees’ commuting habits. The state will use the data to determine how many workers are commuting alone in their gas-burning cars.

The letter to business leaders adds that, “The Department will revise its ... proposal to first focus on data gathering components to establish a strong baseline for future policy paired with setting a strong foundation through a voluntary trip reduction approach.”

The letter further states, “This new proposal is based on the recognition that lasting and meaningful success will require strong buy-in from employers and employees who are subject to the program, and a pilot phase will facilitate our understanding of real world implementation successes and challenges.”

Some of that verbiage — like “pilot phase” and “future policy” — do seem to suggest the department still hopes to implement a mandated version at some point. Let’s put the kibosh on that, now.

It’s one thing for employers acting on their own to poll their employees and come up with incentives to carpool, bike to work and so forth. But to impose such measures on all employers as a class is to invite havoc. It essentially would require a lot of those businesses to make substantial investments — in flexible schedules, employee shuttles, showers, etc. — that most of their employees may not even want.

Meanwhile, most Colorado workers can’t afford electric cars. And probably most will never ride a bike to work. Even practices like carpooling, while convenient and preferable for many employees, are inconvenient for many others.

All such unworkable mandates, in pursuit of vague and ever-changing climate-action goals, represent pipe dreams of bureaucrats who haven’t ever started or run a business. The governor was right to rein them in.