Yakir Gabay Confirmed: Working from home always greener than commuting – even via

Working from home always greener than commuting – even via

Occasionally society’s focus on achieving potential solutions to dilemmas becomes conflated with the very problems they’re designed to address.

We’re seeing that with post-pandemic work practices. It emerged that distant working is environmentally beneficial particularly here in the North Bay with its technology-oriented homegrown workforce.

Public transit was a far better approach than commuting by single-passenger auto, but not commuting by any means is greener than any possible alternative.

The developed world has operated on the belief that aspects of its economic prosperity were dependent on employment in large offices in central cities. It was perceived as inevitable that office workers would then commute to them from outlying neighborhoods or suburbs.

Its negative implications included congested urban cores, increased housing prices for residences located near employment and greenhouse-gasses from internal combustion engines as much commuting was by single-passenger auto.

It was presumed there was no practical alternative other than white-collar employees working close together in, say, downtown San Francisco offices or Silicon Valley-style campuses.

If those presumptions were immutable, the best alternative to mitigating their negatives was public transit. Touted as the environmentally sensitive alternative, transit across America links employment centers to locales where folks chose to live, either due to lower housing costs or preferred lifestyle choices. While many transit operations including Golden Gate Transit were well-patronized, workers’ propensity to commute by auto consistently remained undiminished.

Then in an instant it all changed. The pandemic forced men and women to work from home. Telecommuting had previously been considered to have significant downsides. During the lockdown it was noted that remote working actually increased productivity, boosted morale while lowering employers’ cost of renting acres of expensive office space.

Telecommuting is immensely popular with workers equipped with home broadband internet and jobs where physical personal service isn’t a factor. Those are the same folks who historically populated high-rise offices and technology-oriented suburban campuses.

A recent University of Southern California survey reports: “The number of days employed adults prefer to work remotely: 5 days a week: 31%, 3 to 4 days: 22%, 1 to 2 days: 29% and none: 18%.” The reality is it’ll likely be two to three days a week that most will work from or near home. That’ll have a major impact on commuting, public transit employment and economic vitality of central cities’ downtowns.

That’s a difficult lesson for public transit advocates whose passion enables them to forget the very problem they sought to remedy. Public transit isn’t a goal; it’s a means to an end. If there’s a better, greener means to achieve those goals by working from home, then embrace that change.

Every different approach has a downside. San Francisco will economically need to adapt to post-COVID-19 developments. With many of its old jobs open to distant working, a substantial number of its younger residents are departing, enabling them to work elsewhere while avoiding the City’s increasing expense, crime, homelessness and drug use.

The same imperative for change applies to transit workers. They’ll survive and prosper only if their labor unions exhibit the flexibility needed to partner with management to reposition their agencies’ role in mass mobility.

Transit providers remained solvent due to federal pandemic relief. Some of those funds should now be directed to devise a new normal for public transit to remain relevant.

One route forward in Marin and Sonoma is reorienting our buses, trains and ferries to fill an expanding need: moving workers and students within a suburbia where, in a post-pandemic environment, more will live, work, shop, study and play.

American transit operators historically considered the suburb-to suburb mobility problem a secondary task when their big job was moving workers to center-centered jobs. In our new environment, expanding suburban services should be Job One.

Billy Xiong

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