09 Aug The Future of Employee Shuttles is Alive and Well in the Bay Area
For Google, Apple, and Yahoo, these campuses can be 30 miles or more from the “downtown” area. The inception of this campus concept was designed for employee convenience so that they could avoid downtown completely. Ironically however, many of the Silicon Valley’s workers prefer to reside in the one place the campus designers never thought they would … downtown San Francisco.
Recent news has been plagued with small groups protesting these successful shuttles that have now become a staple of the San Francisco daily commute; many have forgotten the roots where these services got their start. In June of 2011, the San Francisco Transit Authority commissioned a study to look into the impact that their recent influx of private corporate shuttles was having on their community.
Vehicle Trips Avoided: A shuttle passenger commuting to work may otherwise have chosen (or been limited) to driving alone to commute to work if the shuttle were not available. For comparison, the San Francisco Climate Action Plan calls for reducing 1.6 million intraregional solo vehicle roundtrips per year through employer-based programs: the shuttles surveyed represent 20% of the target for intraregional trip reduction from this category of strategies.
Efficiency (Load Factor): Load factors (percentage of vehicle seats that are occupied during a typical trip) are an indication of operating efficiency. As a form of high-occupancy vehicles, shuttles compare positively from automobiles. Having vehicle load factors which are consistently low may point to an opportunity to eliminate or consolidate that trip or route, or to perhaps use smaller vehicles.
Load factors for regional shuttles were self-reported to fluctuate greatly from 20% to 70%. Lower ridership was usually reported in outlying routes or newer routes which have recently been developed. Shuttle service providers reported a general flexibility to their service, which allows adjustments to be made over time as demand shifts. Field monitoring at major transit hubs verified that vehicles are close to capacity at hub locations during peak periods. During an outreach, stakeholder comments cited instances where vehicles are not at or near capacity.
Load factors for local circulator shuttles were determined from the in-depth ridership figures of Adobe Systems for illustrative purposes. Load factors climb as high as 100% during some weekday peaks, but average between 18%– 42% depending upon seasonal factors. This suggests that an opportunity exists to increase operating efficiencies.
Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Avoided: Over-crowding is also eased by the magnitude of trips that shuttle riders are preventing, as generally long auto commute distances result in more pollution, more vehicles taking space on roadways, and more wear and tear on pavement. Multiplying the number of passengers by commute distances to their respective workplaces, the shuttle programs surveyed yield congestion benefits of 20 million VMT avoided per year.
CO2 Emissions Lessened: An important clue of environmental benefit is the reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, as CO2 is known to be one of the major greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. Applying the BAAQMD methodology to survey data and fleet characteristics from the shuttle providers, and assuming the following: a range of years the vehicles were manufactured (from 1994 onward); a range of in-vehicle emissions control systems (categorized based on the percentage of particulate matter they filter, from 25% to 85% representing various emissions levels verified by the California Air Resources Board); and the presence of a nitrous oxide filter following conversations with the shuttle operators regarding their green fleets; 19 the analysis indicate that the shuttle programs surveyed reduced CO2 emissions by approximately 8,000 to 9,500 tons per year over the scenario where some passengers would have driven instead.
Non-CO2 Emissions Reduced: Additional vital components of vehicle exhaust emissions include nitrogen oxides (NOx), reactive organic gases (ROG), and particulate matter (PM). The analysis suggests that shuttle usage yields a reduction in non-CO2 emissions ranging from 1 to 17 tons each year (compared to the case where passengers would have driven alone instead).
Local Spending Induced: The presence of commuter shuttles in local neighborhoods may add to increased economic activity, because of passenger patronage of retail locations between their residence and shuttle stop, which they may not typically have patronized. Of the survey respondents, 63% report that they patronize shops, restaurants, or other business caused by their route to/from the shuttle stop. This estimated total spending (as directed locally near shuttle stop locations) is valued at over $1.8 million per year.
Employee Recruitment and Retention: Having commuter shuttle service as a benefit was cited by the shuttle-providing employers in interviews as a key component of their benefits package offered to existing employees and potential hires. If the shuttle service were unavailable, survey results indicate that 14 % of employees would leave their current employment.
Productivity or Productive Time Gained: Using a shuttle may free up time for doing work-related activities, especially if the shuttle is equipped with work-related amenities for instance, wireless connectivity. About 92% of respondents indicated that they gain productive work time by riding the shuttle, which they reported totals approximately 322,000 person-hours per year.
Accessibility: 62% of survey respondents indicated that their option to live at their current residence in San Francisco was determined by the availability of the employee shuttle service. One respondent mentioned that proximity to shuttle service is used in real estate listings (which was confirmed by another respondent, a real estate broker himself). During outreach, a landlord stated that the proximity of his/her property to a shuttle stop was a deciding location factor for the past two tenants. Several other members of the public contend that shuttles are a nuisance and diminish house values.
Car Ownership Reduced: 28% of survey respondents do not own personal vehicles; thus, the availability of the commuter shuttle may enable or at least further help employees to live without a car. Several employers maintain corporate partnerships with carsharing organizations including Zipcar or Enterprise WeCar (through either on-site company vehicles, or supporting costs for personal memberships) to compliment the shuttle service and provide further mobility for those without cars. About one employer also provides bicycles on site to provide mobility.
Leisure or Personal Time Gained: Using the shuttle may free up time for personal activities (like sleeping, personal emails) or may reduce travel time compared to one’s travel time driving alone, due to the High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes obtainable along the route. 86% of respondents said they gain personal time, which they reported totals about 246,000 person-hours per year.
These shuttles have grown both in reach and in popularity since 2011 and now move on a daily basis over 30% of the total ridership of the public Metro transportation service. Although they have been the target of a small group of vocal opponents the city remains committed to their success and their use as a tool to improve the landscape for San Francisco commuters.
Vicki Rosen, president of Upper Noe Neighbors, mentioned in an interview that these shuttles are ultimately welcome in the neighborhoods. They just need to be managed like anything else.
“I think people are normally supportive of the shuttles. It’s got to be done right,” stated Rosen. “They don’t just have carte blanche. Like any other form of transit, they’ve got to be low-impact. You know, we have to keep after Muni on some things.”
Like Muni, the shuttles have the potential to bring more people to the neighborhood without increasing private auto over-crowding. Whenever you put a bunch of people on a bus, rather than an individual car, that’s a good thing,” said Rosen. We believe in cars too, you know.