An evolved view on transportation

Have you heard of the famous Google, Facebook, and Apple commuter buses that ferry their employees from San Francisco to their corporate Silicon Valley campuses? It is a love hate relationship; the employees love them but the community have really turned against them, mostly because they see the buses as symbols of gentrification and displacement. Rents and property values in the areas where the commuter shuttles pick-up employees have apparently increased faster than other areas. I don’t have enough data to comment on this issue, but I did want to comment on something else!

I recently read an article¹ about San Francisco gathering public feedback around the idea of a centralized transportation hub for private commuter shuttles instead of having stops all over San Francisco. I then read a follow-up article² where they analyzed the different responses against the respondents’ IP addresses and zip codes to figure out where the respondents most likely worked. I read through these comments just to get an idea of the sentiment from the community.

As someone who’s lived in Europe almost 9 years now, I have to say that many of the comments that came from employees working at the three tech giants struck me as ignorant and odd. For example:

“The hub system is an absolutely terrible idea. It completely defeats the purpose of the shuttle program and is clearly designed to try and get rid of it all together by making it less appealing. If a hub is not within walking distance for me, you know what I’ll do? Drive.”

“Any hub should be within a 5 minute walk from [19th Ave and Kirkham]. Otherwise me and a ton of other people will all resort to driving, which is going to add a ton of pressure to our already congested roads. Please don’t let the anti-progress ‘progressive’ people dictate who should live in this city.”

“If there isn’t a shuttle stop within a 5 minute walk I will resort to driving to work, which is completely contrary to all of the above goals.”

I had two takeaways from these comments:

  1. SF techies consider anything more than 5 minutes to be beyond “walking distance” (no wonder Americans are so fat!)
  2. SF techies would rather subject themselves to the pain of 60+ minutes of bumper to bumper traffic in each direction than walk more than 5 minutes, not to mention the increased wear and tear on their cars and the damage to our environment.

What the hell? Am I the only one to think this is an absurd position to take? Ask any European living in a major city and they’d say that any public transportation hub (subway, bus stop, train terminal, etc) within a 10-15 minute walking distance would be acceptable. To have only a 5 minute walking distance would be a luxury.

When I lived and worked in the Bay Area, I walked for about 8 minutes from my home to the Transbay Bus stop. (It wasn’t the most glorious of walks, either.) The bus would take me over the Bay Bridge and drop me off at the Transbay Terminal. From there, it was another 7-10 minute walk to the office. I thought this was a HUGE win: not only did I save on gas, wear and tear on my car, bridge tolls, and parking, it also meant that I could let someone else do the driving and save my sanity!

After thinking about it some more, I think these respondents lack context and a point of reference. They’ve probably that they’ve never had to commute the old-fashioned way – via public transportation. They might have always had a lifestyle where transportation was always made easy for them. They’ve never had to walk long distances either – which is weird, since they live in San Francisco. Why are you living in such a walkable city if you’re not going to walk? And it’s not like it snows in San Francisco like it does in Stockholm!

Living in Stockholm, I love the fact that I don’t have to drive to work, or, for that matter, use a car for most of my day-to-day activities. I walk to work every day and it takes me about 15 minutes each direction. It’s the most relaxing and wonderful thing in the world!

I’m sure many of my readers come from the US and now live in Europe, or vice versa. I’d love to hear from you – what’s your take on this issue?



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