Friday, September 7, 2007

Gimme-Gimmeism & Employment Sprawl

As I was reading accounts of the new Microsoft Bus service which is an obvious nod to the famous Google buses which grace one of the streets by my house every day, I was struck by a comment made to the Seattle Post Intelliger about the transit system:

This is something that the county bus system should be doing and they're not," said Stephen Gerritson, executive director for Commuter Challenge, a Seattle non-profit. "To some extent, Metro is dropping the ball here."
Really? Well I guess the question is what is a good corporate citizen? Obviously Microsoft chose to locate their campus in a sprawling area instead of in the city which has the most commuting options. To me it doesn't seem to be a problem of the county bus system but rather of businesses that decide to locate in unsustainable locals. I have this same problem with Dell in Austin or Chevron in the Bay Area. They located out into nowheresville for cheap land but what they really did is transfer transportation costs onto their employees, specifically employees who wanted a different lifestyle than the auto-oriented trash that we see today. Does anyone wonder why young professionals flock to certain cities like San Francisco, New York, or Seattle? I'll give you a hint, its not to live in Redmond Washington or San Ramon California so they can be closer to their work campus.

This same idea can be applied for people who live in sprawl. Cheaper house? Well pay more for transportation. A study by the Center for Housing Policy showed that for every dollar saved on moving further out, a 70 cent transportation increase was had. We don't seem to let those folks off the hook for their choices so why should we let Microsoft off the hook for theirs? While hard to do now because of their entrenchment in Redmond, what would really help is a move closer to the transportation spines of the region or the creation of a new dense city like center with light rail access to Seattle. People shouldn't blame the County bus for not wanting or being able to incur $2.4 million in operating costs to serve one company, specifically a company who chose an inaccessible area.


Nick said...

It hasn't made as much of a splash in the press, but Microsoft is also expanding into new digs in downtown Seattle.

So perhaps they actually understand the point you're making, and are improving in this respect.

I wish Silicon Valley employers would do as much. For all the Silicon Valley Leadership/Industry Group's lobbying for BART to SJ, it's member companies could do more to boost transit by just relocating their offices close to CalTrain or VTA stops than building a BART ever will, if current commercial development patterns (sprawling seas of office parks) continue.

I don't really expect private companies to be altruistic. We need to find ways to incent better behavior (i.e., make companies pay for the traffic they generate). I recommend a tax on parking spaces--so that companies that make transit actually work for their employees can be rewarded by saving money.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I agree, there needs to be a way for the encouragement of corperations to move near transit. Perhaps some sort of transit abatement tax. A parking space tax like you mentioned would be excellent too.

I noticed that Microsoft has started locating some offices downtown, but it seemed to be a minuscule amount.

Unknown said...

Back to future . . .

A Sacramento History bluff has been recounted the origins of street cars in the Sacramento area. All of them were started by businessmen with an interest in moving people to their properties -- fairgrounds in one case, a new development in another.

You can read the stories here.

Anonymous said...

You are spot-on in this post.

A couple of other things to note:

Microsoft spends lots on subsidizing free parking for employees (it's currently spending some $150-$200 million to build the largest underground parking lot in the nation).

Microsoft has also made a $200k donation to a PAC supporting a ballot measure that will bring light rail out to the main campus in Redmond (albeit, by 2027).

Lastly, the company is struggling to change its corporate culture, which requires lots of face-to-face meetings, and which assumes that people are stupid until you meet them in person.

I don't think the Google buses are the driving factor here, though. It's purely recruitment. People in the Seattle area know how horrible the commute is, and if you want to live in Seattle, you don't want to deal with the commute across 520. That, and it's becoming known that Seattle has some of the worst traffic in the nation, rivalling Los Angeles and the Bay Area. So this will help recruiting at a distance.