Companies are trying to reduce the stress of long employee commutes, which have become worse as the economy has improved from the dark days of the Great Recession. Indeed, a traffic congestion study, which was produced by INRIX, a big data tech firm, and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), reveals that travel delays due to congestion caused drivers to waste more than three billion gallons of fuel and more than seven billion hours of time — that’s 42 hours of wasted time per commuter, per year. The study also highlighted the top five gridlocked cities. It will come as no surprise to those working in our nation’s capital that Washington, D.C. commuters waste 82 hours behind the wheel each year, followed by Los Angeles (80 hours), San Francisco (78 hours), New York (74 hours) and San Jose, California (67 hours).
Estimates by Tomtom.com, the company that makes GPS devices and tracks real-time traffic conditions in urban areas, are even more dramatic. For example, in 2016, the average San Francisco commuter wasted about 150 hours a year struck in traffic, according to Tomtom.
What’s the solution? Microsoft’s commuter programs goes a long way to ease the pain of commuting. Writing in the 2016-2017 issue of Development magazine, Microsoft’s Brian Crockford, senior services manager and head of Microsoft’s Commute program at its corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington, explained how the company has sought ways to mitigate traffic congestion and support both the mobility – and sanity – of its employees, and the health of its community and the environment, through its Commute program.
The company has long had a shuttle service around its massive 500-acre campus that transports its employees, vendors and guests. Crockford said that the company offers 198 shuttles with an average wait time of only seven minutes at designated stops. Microsoft also has a program for carpoolers and vanpoolers, offering a $100/month subsidy and prime parking slots at the campus. The company also offers free regional transit passes that provide unlimited rides on public transportation in the Puget Sound area.
Starting in 2007, Microsoft added a fleet of Connector buses that pick up riders at 50 stops around the Greater Seattle area, according to Crockford. There are 21 bus routes and 89 Connector buses in service. Crockford said that self-driven commutes to its campus have been reduced by 5.3 million trips a year. “Environmentally speaking, that’s a 69.3 million-pound reduction in carbon emissions and a staggering $10.2 million in combined fuel expenses saved by Connector riders,” he wrote.
Further down the Pacific coast, major Silicon Valley tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple have all implemented similar corporate bus programs to get employees to and from their suburban campuses. These programs have developed a strong following among employees. Some local residents, however, have objected to these corporate busing programs, some violently, as they believe that these programs contributed to the 12.8 percent rise in housing prices that brought the median home price in San Francisco to $1,293,600 at the end of 2017.
JLL Executive Vice President Tom Poser, who was quoted in the company’s online Real Views newsletter, said that corporate buses taking employees to the office may not be a new idea but they are a popular one, especially between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. “When Google launched its shuttle service for its Bay Area employees back in 2004, it served about 150 employees at the time. Today, Alphabet – Google’s parent company – operates a fleet of more than a hundred biodiesel buses and estimates that more than half the company’s 11,000 Bay Area employees use the service on a daily basis. Amazon recently joined the club with its Amazon Ride service shuttling employees to its two Seattle office locations,” he said.
While the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) recognizes that corporate busing and other programs to help ease the pain of commuting are useful, it suggests a far broader public/private sector commitment to the problem. In a major study titled Rethinking the Corporate Campus, SPUR offered several key suggestions for changing the way people get to work, including:
- Locate jobs in areas well-served by regional transit and basic amenities.
- Develop transit-oriented development (TOD) policies that maximize growth in limited station-area locations.
- Make local shuttles and other last-mile connections to corporate campus settings accessible to visitors, contractors and the public.
- Build streets that are comfortable and safe for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, both within employment centers and between them.
- Balance the desire for large, open floorplates with the need for good urban design.
- Bring employment centers to life with events, activity and amenities.
Ron Derven is Contributing Editor to Development Magazine and writes on real estate topics for The New York Times