Submitted by murph on 10 July 2007 - 7:59pm. transportation | urban planning | work
getDowntown is Ann Arbor's alt-commuting program, running Curb Your Car Month and administering the go!pass program, among other things. Program Director Erica is leaving the country in a few weeks, so her position came up for grabs recently.
And, well, I couldn't help myself. This is, after all, essentially the job description that got me into planning, and I've been lusting after Erica's job since I knew it existed, about six years ago. Rumor has it I got the job. The rumor mill is apparently both (a) slow and (b) wrong, though - I know a week and a half ago that it took somebody like Nancy Shore to beat me out. Nancy is, until now, SOS Community Relations Coordinator (and the party responsible for the SOS News and Views blog), and also has served on AATA's Board of Directors. Congratulations, Nancy!
In the meantime, somebody asked me, "So, what would you do if you ran getDowntown?" Well, I think gDt is pretty darn good at what it does. Both the go!pass and CYCM seem to me pretty well-established programs by now, and Bike Winter and appearances at Green Fest, etc, seem to round things out pretty well. So - and once more falling back on certain influences - I'd say it's probably high time to jump to the other end of the commute. The CYCM Commuter Challenge, go!pass, and so forth all work from the assumption that people have established commute patterns, and that the task is to get them to change travel modes. "Get people out of their cars!"
But even better than getting people out of their cars is getting to them before they even get into their cars - help them establish good routines to begin with, rather than trying to break them of their established habit. After all, some of them aren't in much position to get out of their cars. As of the 2005 survey of downtown employees (pdf), 30% of respondents said that there was no bus service near their house, or that bus stops were too far away from their house. (And anybody too far from the bus system to use it is definitely too far to walk or bike to downtown Ann Arbor.)
But this can be addressed.
As of 2005, the Census Bureau reported that 65% of Ann Arbor households had occupied their home for less than five years. (The national figure is just about 50% - it's not just students doing the moving.) So, as of 2005, 2/3 of Ann Arbor households had moved since the go!pass existed. Planners are often mocked for a, "well, move closer to work," attitude towards complaints about congestion, but this isn't unrealistic - just impolitic. Try it this way: "When you next move, consider your commute alongside other factors." When stated that way, well, sure! You'd be stupid not to! Thus far, getDowntown's been pretty successful at getting to people where they work. In my mind, the next step would be to get to them where they live, before they live there.
One part of this would be working with realtors. When was the last time your realtor asked you where you worked, and then offered to show you houses along the bus lines that go there? (Probably never.) Realtors should be pitching the go!pass to anybody who works downtown, both as a means of helping the buyer out, and also selling more of those close-to-downtown-and-therefore-pricier homes.
go!pass information should also be a part of any benefits information offered to new recruits. Google plans to hire 1,000 people in the next few years, and in downtown for now at least. They'll be drawing people from around the area and around the state - make sure those people know how to get to work without driving before they start looking for housing in town! So far, the narrative about Google has had a lot of focus on their desire to have 1,000 parking spaces for their 1,000 employees, but Google's no stranger to alt-transportation. Heck, at their headquarters, they even provide an in-house free commuter shuttle. If Google's willing to drive their own employees around at that location, passing out go!pass lit to potential hires here should be no problem.
Finally, find a bank willing to offer location-efficient mortgages. Sure, we all know that not driving to work frees up money for other things, and that the higher housing cost of living close to work is offset by the lower transportation cost (okay, so maybe it's only planners who know that), but some banks are going further, and taking that into consideration when writing loans. An LEM allows the homebuyer to qualify for a somewhat larger mortgage, or get a slightly better loan rate - since they're spending less on gas/etc, the bank knows they're better able to pay the loan. To my knowledge, no bank in the area offers LEMs.
So, while I didn't get the job, I've just booby-trapped it with a whole lot of work to do. Nancy, you can thank me later.