Last weekend I participated in TransportationCamp West, an “unconference” in San Francisco that explored the intersection of urban transportation and technology. This is the second article in a series I’m writing, each inspired by sessions I attended. This article was based on discussions from the session entitled “Transportation Demand Management 2.0.”
Despite the fact that Bay Area planners talk about concentrating jobs and homes near transit, there isn’t much evidence that this is actually happening. In the tech sector, Facebook recently chose to move from one sprawling Silicon Valley campus to another and San Francisco has to give Twitter a sweetheart tax deal just to keep them from splitting for the suburbs for another few years. With so much job growth taking place outside of established transit corridors, are employee shuttles the best solution to help reduce travel demand?
Free employee shuttles provided by such companies as Google and Apple are already a popular solution for workers commuting to the sprawling office parks of Silicon Valley. These luxury buses often provide Wi-Fi and other amenities in addition to direct one-seat service to work, and are a powerful recruiting tool. To date, there has been little movement to integrate them into the overall regional transportation network, but that is beginning to change with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority’s recent study on the role of shuttles in the city. Partnerships between shuttle providers and public transit agencies establishing regulations for sharing stops and coordinating schedules would be appropriate, as would allowing the limited use of bus yards for repairs and storage.
Another important component in reducing travel demand is encouraging the acceptance of flexible work schedules and telecommuting – by allowing some employees to work non-traditional hours or compressed work weeks, peak-hour travel could be considerably reduced. Short of this, the most important strategy we should encourage among employers is the availability of financial incentives to change commuting behavior. Providing incentives for employers to subsidize transit passes instead of parking will make the decision for an employee to use transit much easier – when combined with land use practices that concentrate jobs and housing near transit, this could be just as powerful a recruiting tool as the Silicon Valley shuttles.