Hector Garcia photo via Flickr -Creative Commons
(This article was written by Mobility Lab Director Tom Fairchild.)
As an avid iPhone user, I have bought into the sense that Apple could literally peer into the future and deliver me technology I never realized I would so desperately need.
For years, Steve Jobs and company seem to have been our reliable guides to a better tomorrow. For new technology, Apple’s vision towards the future seems nearly flawless. But for corporate responsibility? Well, that’s a different story.
Apple’s decision to build a mammoth new headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. — miles from public transportation and adequate housing — amounts to a corporate denunciation of sustainability and a giant corporate shrug to Mother Earth.
Rendering via City of Cupertino
Leadership for the tech giant maintains that the new campus will offer "a serene environment reflecting Apple's values of innovation, ease of use and beauty." However, the simple facts show that many of Apple’s 13,000 employees will now be commuting to an isolated location 45 miles south of San Francisco.
This reality seems a world apart from Apple’s corporate communications
, which state:
“Our commute programs reduce traffic, smog, and GHG emissions by providing incentives for biking, using public transportation and reducing the use of single-occupancy vehicles.”
How exactly is this possible when the new headquarters is being built on a location without any existing public transportation options?
It does sound nice that Apple is funding a $35 million transportation demand management (TDM) program encouraging employees to use corporate shuttles and carpools. However, even with these efforts in place, Apple predicts at least 9,000 employees will drive alone
to the new headquarters — resulting in a huge increase in emissions and clogged roadways.
RELATED: (Video) Life at the Googleplex
Although TDM can mitigate the worst outcomes, even the best program cannot make up for a disastrous location. It’s commendable that Apple has a TDM program at all and fits their vision since TDM is designed to be forward thinking. But having a TDM at this facility is like Exxon having a program to wipe down baby seals after a spill.
Apple would have done well to have followed the White House directive that establishes:
“an integrated strategy toward sustainability in the federal government, including efforts to operate high performance sustainable buildings in sustainable locations and to strengthen the vitality and livability of the communities for federal agencies.”
That Executive Order further directs agencies to:
“advance regional and local integrated planning by ... participating in regional transportation planning and recognizing existing community transportation infrastructure; ensuring that planning for new federal facilities or new leases includes consideration of sites that are pedestrian friendly, near existing employment centers, and accessible to public transit, and; emphasizes existing central cities and (rural) town centers."
Soon the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will select a site for its new headquarters in the Washington, D.C. region. The selection is narrowing to two locations that are both adjacent to Metrorail stations. Whether the FBI will beat Apple’s drive-alone rate to its new campus is yet to be seen. Nonetheless, by locating adjacent to existing transportation infrastructure, the FBI will make a statement about its desire to create a sustainable work environment.
Successful TDM programs around the world make great contributions by encouraging better use of sustainable transportation options, such as walking, biking, public transportation, carpooling and vanpooling. Regrettably, even with a best-case TDM program for shifting employee commuting patterns, Apple’s isolated location will result in a commuting nightmare for its employees with consequences for the entire San Francisco Bay Area.
In case you missed it...
Read our METRO blog, "What If We Sold Transit Fares Like Cell Phone Minutes?"
As an experienced designer of streetcar systems, one question I am frequently asked is, "Can a streetcar _____?" The blanks are usually filled with design challenges, such as "turn left from a curb lane", or "go under a low clearance underpass" or "operate at higher speeds and frequencies." More often than not, the answer is YES! Modern streetcar systems, such as those operating in Seattle, Tucson, and Atlanta, are modeled after European trams that are designed to fit within tight, complex, and built-out urban environments. The unique combination of vehicle's size coupled with the ability to operate in the same lanes as automobiles, trucks, and buses allow designers to create safe, efficient solutions to nearly every design challenge that arises.
At the Denton County (Texas) Transportation Authority (DCTA), we’re constantly looking for unique ways to engage with passengers, generate brand awareness and increase ridership. This year with Valentine’s Day being on a Saturday, we saw a great opportunity to launch a campaign in which passengers could ride DCTA’s A-train commuter rail and Connect Bus for free on Valentine’s Day all day by saying “Be Mine” to the agency’s rail and bus operators. With low-trending ridership in February, we needed to find a way to increase ridership and brand awareness within Denton County and surrounding cities. Launching the Valentine’s Day promotion definitely would help us achieve this.
Seeing a canine passenger on mass transit is not uncommon, but the reasons why a dog might catch the train or hop a bus are varied (remember Eclipse, the Seattle Lab mix that uses the bus, often on her own, to get to the dog park?). Most public transit pooches are working —as K-9 officers or service animals. In the Philadelphia region, other animals — in approved carriers only—are permitted to ride the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s buses, trains and trolleys. However, a new pilot program underway by SEPTA allows registered therapy dogs volunteering at two Philadelphia hospitals to use two designated bus routes to travel to their sites.
To be sure, there is no substitute for offering high-quality bus or rail transit service, but many transit agencies skimp when it comes to marketing, outreach, and education and, as a result, the public often has no idea how good the service may actually be. Buses also have an image problem in many communities, which proper marketing could help address. Witness the huge sums spent by automakers in crafting the image of their automobiles.
The Uber website proudly states that, “Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 200 cities today, Uber's rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.” Such hype is common on corporate websites, but when the braggadocio is backed up by an article in the Wall Street Journal that discloses a valuation of $41 billion their ambitious words take on relevance.