MTC's Transformative Projects Could be More Transformative

And the Winners Are!

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments announced on October 22 the 12 finalists, out of 500 participants, in the Horizon Transformative Project, a public competition that solicited “big, bold and billion-dollar (or more) project ideas” for improving mobility across the Bay Area. Plan Bay Area 2050 will incorporate submissions that best fit the Plan’s objectives.

The 12 winning ideas fall into two categories, capacity-increasing projects and operational strategies projects, with 6 ideas in each. Here is a list of the ideas. Visit the Horizon website for names of the authors, a brief description of each project, and a list of all submitted projects.

Capacity increasing:

  • Optimized Express Lane Network and Regional Express Bus Network

  • Bus Rapid Transit on All Bridges

  • SMART to Richmond via a New Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

  • Interstate 80 Corridor Overhaul

  • Regional Bicycle Superhighway Network

  • Bay Trail Completion

Operational Strategies:

  • Integrated Transit Fare System

  • Free Transit

  • Higher-Occupancy HOV Lanes

  • Demand-Based Tolls on All Highways

  • Reversible Lanes on Congested Bridges and Freeways

  • Freight Delivery Timing Regulation

The list of winning projects, as well as the brief description of each on the Horizon website, provides a good hint of what each idea entails, but judgment would be difficult. For example, transit express lanes, rapid transit on all bridges, and bicycle superhighways sound good, but what would be left for those who want or need to drive their private vehicle? Free transit needs a lot of explanation as to who will pay for “free.” Demand-based tolls on all highways should call to mind that taxpayers pay to build the highways and then pay once again to ride them.

A Good Idea Not Explored

Congratulations to the 12 winners and to the 488 folks who did not get picked this time around but made the effort.

One idea that could be considered particularly transformative that was not selected by MTC/ABAG was alternative ways to work. Twenty project submissions suggested ideas such as alternate business hours, telecommute programs, staggered work start times, tax breaks and incentives for employers participating in alternative work environments, and tools for designing work schedules.

As in the case of projects that were selected, it is difficult to judge these alternative work scenarios that were not selected by MTC/ABAG without their full descriptions. For example, it might be important to know whether some of these projects involve mandates with which employers and/or employees must comply regardless of burden.

Granted, these alternative work schedules are not directly related to road design or infrastructure policies, but they certainly are related to traffic congestion. MTC/ABAG pride themselves on partnering with stakeholders and working with communities (seems to be their favorite phrases), so encouraging alternative hours for businesses as well as government agencies might be in order. People working from home do not commute back and forth daily, and thus do not help clog the roads.

Here are some reasons alternative working schedules should be considered:

Working from home

* This is the age of working parents who value time to take care of their children’s needs. Flexible days and hours help.

* Millennial workers make up a large percentage of the U.S. workforce. They are known for changing jobs often in search of what suits them best, including alternative work scenarios.

* The Bay Area is a high-cost, high-tax locale, that depends on high earners to pay the region’s bills. Millennial workers are high earners compared to others in the workforce. It behooves employers to keep millennials happy.

* Within the last couple of years, a few large employers with presence in the Bay Area reversed their trend of allowing their employees to work from home. Yahoo, Bank of America, Aetna and IBM reduced or completely eliminating their telecommuting programs. The move was ostensibly prompted by the companies’ belief that innovation has become essential and having everyone interacting in the same place helps innovation. Perhaps these companies were not aware of the plethora of remote conferencing software and hardware now in the market?

Bay Area Companies Free From the 9-5 Ritual

While Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer famously banned working from home, Automattic (the technology company that owns WordPress.com) closed its San Francisco Office. In the words of CEO Matt Mullenweg,

We got an office there [140 Hawthorne in San Francisco] about six or seven years ago, pretty good lease, but nobody goes in it. Five people go in it and it’s 15,000 square feet. They get like 3,000 square feet each.

WordPress has 59.4% market share, with other giant content management systems like Joomla and Drupal training behind, according to Digital.com. Seems like their employees working from home are pretty innovative.

Other large companies with a presence in the Bay Area that allow for alternative work scenarios of one form or another are Deloitte, Glassdoor, McKesson, and Oracle. Other companies such as Google do not have a specific WFH policy, but say they are generous in allowing flextime when employees need it.