Stuck in Traffic: Private shuttles in place of transit
Companies experiment with shuttling employees to business parks
At 28, Danielle Cochrane is part of a young generation that isn't interested in owning a car.
When her employer, Jonview Canada, made the move from Toronto to the West Mall, a business park on Toronto's border with Mississauga, Cochrane's commute to work became a lot harder.
A longtime user of public transit, Cochrane said it isn't the actual time spent on the bus to take her from the Kipling subway station to her office in the West Mall, it was the time spent — anywhere from half an hour to 40 minutes — waiting for the infrequent public bus in the sprawling business park where her company relocated.
Like all of the GTA's former industrial lands, the West Mall is notoriously difficult to serve with public transit because most of the people working there travel by car with a tiny percentage — about seven per cent — of transit users concentrated during the morning and evening rush hour.
Cochrane got some help with her commute when her company invested in shuttle bus services, sharing the cost with SNC-Lavalin, the engineering and construction firm next door to Jonview Canada, an international travel tour company.
Helping with the commute
Andrew Lind, CEO of Jonview Canada, said the company has to do more than offer a job in order to earn the willingness of its staff to make the long commute.
"We're not the best payers," Lind said. "We did a lot of studying before we moved — as to where our employee base lived — and getting an idea of what people's commuting patterns would be like."
Helping with the commute, he said, was a concrete way for the company to support its employees.
The company's decision to move to the West Mall was lured by the lower cost of real estate in the suburban business park. Lind's own commute became much longer.
"I went from a 15-minute bike ride, or bus ride, to a 32-kilometre commute by car," Lind said, his commute helped along by a stock of audio books.
For employees who don't own cars, Lind said the company offers subsidized transit passes.
He's proud of the result — the company lost a tiny fraction of its employees despite the decision to relocate in an area, poorly served by public transit.
"We had an incredible result, an incredible story," Lind said. "We lost the classic textbook seven per cent of our employee base."
The transit factor
Doug Hitchcox, a vice-president with the real estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle, said the Jonview experiment is one that more companies have to weigh when considering a move to suburban business parks, given the growing commute times across the GTA.
"Business parks have a lot of pressure on them to draw on that younger workforce that wants to buy one-bedroom condos in the city, with no parking," he said.
Hitchcox said public transit becomes a very important ingredient in the decision to move out of the downtown core to surrounding municipalities such as Mississauga, Richmond Hill or Vaughan.
"Because there are some great savings by going there. But there has to be some give-back."
Hitchcox said the "give-back" often takes the form of shuttle busses, and many companies that haven't yet invested in a shuttle service have started to consider them.
The change is driven by demographics as companies recognize that to recruit younger workers — millennials, as they've been dubbed by marketers and demographic analysts — who aren't interested in car ownership, a car-dependent location could restrict the hiring pool.
Kipling to Target headquarters
Shuttle busses are also ferrying the new hires at Target, the North American retail chain, which recently opened its Canadian headquarters at AeroCentre, an office complex adjacent to Highway 401 and Pearson International Airport in Mississauga.
Two full-sized shuttle busses ferry workers between the Kipling subway station and the Target offices during the morning and evening rush hours. The hybrid busses are provided free of charge by Menkes, the developer of the AeroCentre complex.
Hitchcox said call centres are under particular pressure to support their employees' commute. Many corporations with downtown headquarters are relocating their call centre divisions to the less expensive real estate in suburban business parks.
"Call centres are infamous for attrition — 30 per cent a year is not uncommon for some locations," said Hitchcox. "The goal is always how can you move to a new facility and have some cost reduction and yet treat the employee to a better environment than they were already in."
Hitchcox said shuttle buses are a great solution, especially for younger workers for whom attaining the corner office doesn't have the same appeal as it had for an earlier generation.
Hitchcox said the so-called millennials raised on social media are less interested in offices of any kind but have a keener appreciation of the social aspect of their lives. The shuttle bus creates a social environment before they've even arrived at their office.
"You're not getting on the bus with a bunch of strangers," Hitchcox said. "You get on a shuttle that's serving your office building, so there's a pretty good probability your friends will be on it."