Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

Are We There Yet? Painless Commutes

This is another in a series of blog posts excerpted from Reconnecting America's report "Are We There Yet? Creating Complete Communities for 21st Century America"

Some places just don’t have the density of jobs and residents and intensity of activity that justifies an investment in rail transit. Many of these communities are investing in bus and shuttle service as well as in programs that make it easier and more pleasant to carpool, walk and bike to jobs in an urban or suburban downtown, and to get healthier while doing it. Des Moines, for example, which has a population 400,000, has been investing nearly $2 million a year to make the downtown more walkable and create a network of bike lanes and trails.

Google — which offers job perks that are the envy of Silicon Valley, including chef-prepared food at all hours — is trying to make commutes as painless as possible by ferrying its pampered workers on shuttles that run on biodiesel, with leather seats, wi-fi, and even room for dogs. The Google shuttle carries a quarter of the company’s workforce, making 130 trips a day to 40 pick-up and drop-off points in the six-county San Francisco Bay Area.

Shout Outs

College Campuses That Place Best in Show in Transit

Colleges and universities are some of the biggest employers, and also provide perks for faculty, staff and students. With a single parking space costing upwards of $40,000 on campuses where the land value is high, parking structures divert significant resources away from education.

  • Marquette University, Milwaukee, provides free bus passes and a student-run intercampus shuttle.
  • Lewis & Cark College, Portland, Oregon, operates a free campus. shuttle with hourly service to a local supermarket and into downtown.
  • Boston University has eight rail stations and offers discounted semester-long “T” transit passes as well as late night shuttle service.
  • The University of Texas in Austin has the largest university shuttle system in the U.S. with 14 routes and 7.5 million annual passengers annually, with service off-campus to jobs and housing centers.
  • Colleges and universities in and around Denver, many of which have negotiated with the transit agency for free student transit passes.
  • The University of Montana linked its transit service with the City of Missoula’s to make it easier for 15,000 students, faculty and staff to leave their cars at home — the university has only 4,500 parking spaces.

Google employees epitomize the creative class, who are attracted to the vitality of urban centers and unlikely to move to the suburban locations where many large employers continue to build their campuses. Google has recognized this trend, and is building new offices in New York City. This shuttle service is a generous fringe benefit that is now being offered by other employers, including Yahoo, eBay and Genentech to help attract and retain the best and the brightest employees.

Bishop Ranch, a suburban office park outside of San Francisco, has succeeded in getting 33 percent of its 30,000 workers to take transit by buying its own fleet of buses and working with the city and county transit agencies to subsidize bus passes for workers and bus routes that serve the campus. The program’s success is enhanced by a transit coordinator who “works the gig more like an Avon lady,” according to a 2011 story in The Atlantic, hand-delivering bus passes to offices in the park so she can get cozy with receptionists who then refer frustrated commuters.

Marci McGuire, the park’s transit coordinator, can tell stories about workers who have saved in excess of $10,000 a year on car payments, maintenance, gas and tolls, but she finds transit’s stress-reducing and health-promoting aspects an even easier sell. Having herself lost 40 pounds sprinting to make transit connections, she encourages employees to get off the bus a stop or two early and walk home — so they can avoid having to spend time on the treadmill.

More Blog Posts In This Series