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'Google Buses' Are Bad For Cities, Says New York MTA Official 606

Posted by timothy
from the and-a-pony dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Director of Sustainability for New York's MTA is calling out Google, Apple, and Yahoo for 'deliberately' building their campuses away from public amenities like restaurants, and public transportation. 'With very few honorable exceptions like Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, who recently moved his company headquarters from suburban Henderson to downtown Las Vegas, tech companies seem not to have gotten the memo that suburbs are old and bad news,' he writes. Instead of launching their own bus services to ferry people from the city to their campuses, as the tech companies have done, the Googles and Apples of the world should 'locate themselves in existing urban communities. Ideally, in blighted ones,' says Dutta." Maybe cities just don't have the right mix of amenities, price, space, parking, and other factors to make them better places to put certain businesses.
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'Google Buses' Are Bad For Cities, Says New York MTA Official

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  • by eudas (192703) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:54AM (#46334615)

    If anyone is going to bring us Shadowrun-style corporate arcologies, it'll be Google.

  • by mikehilly (653401) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:55AM (#46334625)
    I would rather the campus be located away from urban area. Less traffic, less driving, cheap/free parking, cheaper food, less chance of crime happening to me or my properly while at or traveling to work and for most people closer to home. This is double so if locally aimed marketing and walk in customers are not very frequent.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:56AM (#46334639)

    Really.

  • Why (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Drewdad (1738014) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:57AM (#46334649)

    Why is commuting from suburbs to town centers good, but commuting from town center to a suburb bad?

  • by jcr (53032) <.jcr. .at. .mac.com.> on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:58AM (#46334655) Journal

    Apparatchik from a tax-dependent transit agency is bad-mouthing private alternatives. HIs approval is neither sought nor required.

    -jcr

  • Indeed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ysth (1368415) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:58AM (#46334661)

    This: "Maybe cities just don't have the right mix of amenities, price, space, parking, and other factors to make them better places to put certain businesses."

    The Director of Sustainability demonstrates the ludicrous line of thought that puts stadiums downtown.

  • What an asshole. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by therealkevinkretz (1585825) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:58AM (#46334663)

    "Put your company and employees in a more expensive and crowded place (and *blighted?!* = more dangerous) because I say it's better", says a guy who works for a terribly-run monopoly that depends on people needing to get where he's telling them to build.

  • Translation: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Joey Vegetables (686525) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:59AM (#46334679) Journal
    Whiny mid-level mafia manager bemoans that his big city mafia has chased away business. Maybe if cities focused on becoming good places to do business again, business might move back. Just a thought.
  • Re:Why (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CimmerianX (2478270) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:59AM (#46334681)
    Because the mayors of town centers want the business and all the revenue it brings inside the city. The suburbs may be a whole other municipality and city. Just follow the money.
  • Dutta == Idiot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by byteherder (722785) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:01PM (#46334715)
    '...locate themselves in existing urban communities. Ideally, in blighted ones,'

    You mean you want Google to locate its campuses in urban blighted areas (slums). No modern tech company will do that, no one would work for them. It is all about attracting the best and brightest minds. I have a suggestion, why don't you clean up your cities and get rid of the blighted areas and maybe companies will want to locate there.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:01PM (#46334719)
    Well said sir. What I don't want is to have to drive in to some stupid, inner city like San Francisco where the homeless are peeing on the buildings while asking for handouts, sit in interminable traffic, pay to park, etc. That would be stupid. The buses are a great solution where the people who want to live in the inner city squalor can do so (they seem to think they need to be near "something to do" - basically stupid bars and dance clubs) and get a bus to the campus while wiser suburban dwellers can drive in without the congestion and parking fees you get in the city.
  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:02PM (#46334729) Homepage Journal

    Maybe cities just don't have the right mix of amenities, price, space, parking, and other factors to make them better places to put certain businesses.

    Certain businesses? Which sort? The kind that benefit from building all those amenities from scratch? I call bullshit unless you are operating an airport, naval base, or some other ridiculously large and specialized enterprise. Google, Apple, etc simply balked at the rent/taxes they would have to pay to locate somewhere with a good workforce, and instead camps outside the city limits and cherry picks employees with private buses to take advantage of the city without having to pay for it. If the suburbs were such an appealing location, why aren't the employees there too?

  • And Taxes. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KermodeBear (738243) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:05PM (#46334773) Homepage

    Maybe cities just don't have the right mix of amenities, price, space, parking, and other factors to make them better places to put certain businesses.

    Not to mention the higher taxes inside of cities. In Cleveland, for example, Progressive Insurance wanted to put a big office building right in downtown Cleveland. Then they looked at the taxes they would be paying. The City of Cleveland refused to make an exemption for them. That is fully within their rights, of course. Anyway, where was the office built?

    Right outside of the Cleveland city limits. Close to the city, but not where they'd have to pay the extra taxes. Cleveland City Council was pissed of course but they only have themselves to blame.

    This stuff matters to businesses. It affects everything they do and it affects the end cost to the customer. After all - a customer, in order to purchase a product or service, needs to pay for all of the costs required to provide that good or service. That includes taxes the business must pay. People always clamoring for more taxes on business never seem to realize that in their fervor to punish businesses for being successful, the real person who is being punished is the customer. Not the business.

    In a competitive market a company cannot afford to be paying unnecessary taxes.

    Businesses aren't the only things leaving NYC either; many high profile wealthy people are leaving, or have left, for the same reason. Same in California.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:13PM (#46334879)

    Really.

    Apparently the thousands of tech workers that Google, Apple, and others are shuttling from SF to the Peninsula want to live in a city.

  • by zerofoo (262795) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:14PM (#46334895)

    Almost daily I read something telling me that my car will become obsolete, my suburban house will plummet in value, and my suburban lifestyle is heading the way of the dodo. Meanwhile, the suburban neighborhood I currently live in didn't exist 10 years ago. Could it be that people actually like living in the suburbs?

    The problem with this "urban utopia" concept is that cities suck. They are generally crowded, noisy, smelly, expensive, and all-around unpleasant. Sure, if you are young and don't mind having 3-4 roommates, or you are a history professor type that loves walking everywhere - they by all means - live in a city.

    I loved NYC until I had to work there. Holy crap - what a disaster that place is. The experience was so bad, I ran to the suburbs to raise kids - and I'm never going back.

    It's no surprise that tech companies, flush with cash, can seek better alternatives. I actually applaud these companies. There are talented employees all over the country - not just in cities. If companies want to bus in their workers - that's great. Government should just get out of the way and keep the roads paved.

  • Re:Ya think so? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:15PM (#46334901)

    So tech companies don't want to be in [...] the middle of neighborhoods that most of their workers wouldn't want to live

    Hurrrr we are reading this article because of the exact fucking opposite of what you are positing. Try again.

  • Missing the point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by madopal (308394) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:18PM (#46334921) Homepage

    I believe he's saying, "If you're bussing your employees from the city to the suburbs, why not put the company in the city?"

    If people would RTFA:
    "Members of the current generation of in-demand workers wants to live in a city like San Francisco. They prefer an urban lifestyle to a suburban one. They want to be able to walk to grocery stores, restaurants, theaters, etc. They prefer traveling to work using collective transportation, rather than driving -- perhaps, in part, because they can be productive on the way."

    Because, if what everyone is saying is so true ("Why be in an urban hell?"), then why are there so many buses heading *from* places like SF to the 'burbs? Clearly the employees like the amenities that the urban areas provide, otherwise they wouldn't live there, and there wouldn't be enough employees to justify a separate bus system to move them to the suburban campuses, no?

    And this is exactly what Twitter just did (got a sweet deal in The Mission, not exactly a wonderful area before), but that's created a whole host of other problems. However, rents have shot up, so what he's proposing is working there. Apartments are now fetching $2000/month+ rent in what was a cheap area. These companies have power, and when they bring that power, other businesses follow. And the point of the article is: if the employees recognize this and are living in the cities, why aren't the businesses going there?

  • by NapalmV (1934294) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:18PM (#46334931)

    Google run buses because driving is horrible, time consuming, unproductive, and because even in the suburbs land space for parking is expensive.

    Then let first the city planners fix the traffic issues if they want any new business going in there.

  • Re:Dutta == Idiot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:20PM (#46334955)

    '...locate themselves in existing urban communities. Ideally, in blighted ones,' You mean you want Google to locate its campuses in urban blighted areas (slums). No modern tech company will do that, no one would work for them. It is all about attracting the best and brightest minds. I have a suggestion, why don't you clean up your cities and get rid of the blighted areas and maybe companies will want to locate there.

    Or, when they do move in they meet resistance from existing residents that accuse them of ruining the neighborhood by driving up prices and gentrifying it.

  • by harrkev (623093) <kfmsdNO@SPAMharrelsonfamily.org> on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:20PM (#46334959) Homepage

    So, Google decided to do something about traffic. Instead of having dozens of cars on the roads, spewing greenhouse gasses and burning foreign oil, they decide to do the "green" thing and provide buses, and they are condemned for it?! Are these buses running off of fuel made from baby seals?

    Who can blame businesses for wanting to be away from crowds? If you can get a large campus for much cheaper, why not?

    Imagine having to move into an existing urban area.... If you want to have a new, large facility, then you possibly have to purchase the land from multiple owners (maybe the site already has multiple smaller buildings, each separately owned). Then, you have to demolish the old buildings.

    Of course, you could always move into an existing building. How old is it? Does it have asbestos in it? Are there any maintenance nightmares in store? How does the building look? What is the floor layout? Will you need to remodel?

    Whether you tear down and rebuilt, or use an existing building, there are other questions... Is there a crime problem? Who are the neighbors? How bad is traffic? Where will the employees park? Do you also need to build a multi-level parking garage for your employees (vastly more expensive than a regular parking lot)? Do you just let them use public paid parking?

    All of this stuff simply means that it is probably far easier just to get a few dozen acres away from town and build a new building there. If you want to change this, then you need to change the economics of the situation. Tax breaks for urban areas ("tax breaks" and "urban" are not normally used in the same sentence). Maybe make the permitting process easier. I do not know what the answer is. I do know that if I were running a business, building the exact building that I want away from town where the land is cheaper just seems to make a lot of sense.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:22PM (#46335003)

    I would rather the campus be located away from urban area. Less traffic, less driving, cheap/free parking, cheaper food, less chance of crime happening to me or my properly while at or traveling to work and for most people closer to home. This is double so if locally aimed marketing and walk in customers are not very frequent.

    I would rather the campus be located away from urban area. Less traffic, less driving, cheap/free parking, cheaper food, less chance of crime happening to me or my properly while at or traveling to work and for most people closer to home. This is double so if locally aimed marketing and walk in customers are not very frequent.

    Less traffic? You haven't driving down 101 to Mountain View lately, have you? And it's not like Mountain View is so much affordable than SF so you probably won't be living close to your Google job. A nice 1 bedroom in Mountain View can run $3 - $4,000, just like in SF.

    Cheaper food? Sure, if your company provides it for you, otherwise that "cheap food" is a 15 - 20 minute drive off campus to a strip mall, so you end up spending half your lunch hour in your car. In Downtown SF there are dozens or hundreds of places within a 5 - 10 minute walk from the office, with prices ranging from a a $5 Chinese takeout place to a $150 restaurant.

    Less chance of crime? Your car probably has a better chance of getting broken into in Mountainview since it'll be parked in a big, largely unpatrolled parking lor or parking garage. In SF, you're not going to be driving a car.

    There are lots of benefits to living and working in a city, though it's not for everyone. If you like the "convenience" of being able to drive everywhere, you won't like a city. If you don't want to *have* to drive everywhere, a city is very attractive.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:25PM (#46335051)

    "because marketers decided every American should have a single family home (detached home in the rest of the world), and planners followed along"

    No, it's because those of us who have bought such homes do not want to follow the Japanese model. It's the only thing I've ever heard a frenchman say that I will quote - "the Japanese? Why would we want to live like the Japanese? They live like ants!". I do NOT want to live in a big box with thousands of other people. That is NOT living, it's mere existence, if that. Marketers now are pushing you into those hovels because they can make a LOT more money off of you, with very little cost to support all of you ants. No thanks.

  • Re:Dutta == Idiot (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CronoCloud (590650) <cronocloudauron@gma i l . c om> on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:27PM (#46335085)

    I have a suggestion, why don't you clean up your cities and get rid of the blighted areas and maybe companies will want to locate there.

    The cities became blighted when companies moved to the suburbs along with their white-flight employees. So the long-standing companies that don't want to move back to the cities, are responsible for the blight in the first place.

    Other companies like Google, just set up in the suburbs because that's how it's done now.

  • by garyebickford (222422) <gar37bic.gmail@com> on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:33PM (#46335155)

    From my perspective, essentially everything from south of San Jose to somewhere north of Sausalito and east of I680 is 'city'. Thinking of Mountain View as a suburb is an example of how myopic these folks are. I recall over 20 years ago when 400 square foot condos (that's 20x20 feet or 6x6 meters, including everything) in god-forsaken Fremont sold out before they were built. (In fairness, I don't know what Fremont is like now - it may be yuppie heaven these days.) If that isn't 'city' I don't know what is.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:36PM (#46335191)

    Ummm... people move to the outskirts of a city so their kids don't have to fear getting mugged or shot in crossfire between inner city gangs. You cannot raise children in almost all US cities safely, so virtually any fit parent has to do the suburban thing so the strays the kid sees are puppies and kittens, not .40 rounds.

    Yes, city managers want employers in their cities. It means more revenue for them (taxes, fines, parking issues, etc.) However, a company is best served by having their campus well on the edge of a town for expansion reasons and the fact that they have a buffer between the city council and their politics and day to day functioning.

    Were I making a campus for a large company, I'd probably look how a city handles traffic. Being in Texas, I can compare Austin and Abilene for examples. Abilene can have their population double overnight and not have a major commute time increase. Austin has not done a significant traffic improvement since 1995 (other than Perry's toll roads), and has almost doubled in size. You bet if I had a choice to locate a business for people to be productive, it would be Abilene.

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:40PM (#46335253) Homepage Journal

    It's only close to home, because marketers decided every American should have a single family home (detached home in the rest of the world)

    Who the hell "likes" sharing walls with people?

    I personally was so happy when I could afford to live in stand alone houses. I now, don't have to listen to other peoples noise (stereo, crying babies, fscking, etc)...and I don't have to be terribly cognizant of my own levels of noise production.

    I like having a back yard, where I can plant and grow a nice sized vegetable garden, where I can set up my smoker and my grills....where I can set up my homebrewing apparatus, where I can set up and invite friends over for a large crawfish boil, etc.

    Why would I possibly, want to live in a smaller box, share walls, and have to squeeze all my outdoor fun on some small balcony, that in some places has regulations against open flame outdoor cooking?

    Living in a city can be fun for a young, single person on the move....they're usually out partying and not home that much, so who cares about the dwelling? But once you get a bit older, and maybe even have a family, you like to have a bit more privacy and room to stretch your arms and enjoy things more of a homebody style of living.

  • More than that... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sl3xd (111641) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:43PM (#46335291) Journal

    He's saying that businesses should buy more expensive property at higher tax rates, in a slum, tear it all down, and rebuild everything new.

    In other words: these companies should take it upon themselves to finance urban renewal.

    Now I'm all for corporations being better citizens, and giving more back to the communities, but it is laughable to take an area the city can't take care of, and expect a corporation to somehow improve the area by moving in. Corporations aren't in business to make the area's neighborhoods better; that's the job of the city government.

    I've seen a number of big, respected corporations in slums. (The Prudential is HQ'd at Broad & Market in Newark - hardly a shining pillar of civilization). The proximity of the company did nothing for the area.

  • by atriusofbricia (686672) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:46PM (#46335329) Journal

    make it worth their while. ... quit asking them to do things that are not in their best interest.

    And that narrow view sums up the problem. Where is your sense of social responsibility? Or if not that, can you at least muster some enlightened self interest? You know, the thought that improving a neighborhood is in fact in your own interest, and that just moving into a neighborhood will improve it? That's assuming the business isn't one of those irresponsible sorts that sets a bad example by spewing pollution into the environment and then walking away from the mess they made, leaving it for the public or natural processes to clean up.

    Except that spending my money to improve a crap hole neighborhood is almost certainly not in my best interests. It would cost far more money, have far greater risks and likely benefit me not at all beyond a PR move. Building a new corporate HQ in a blighted area is almost always going to be a moronically bad idea for nearly everyone concerned except the city which gets to tax you to hell and gone for the privilege. On top of that you're almost certainly going to have greater security concerns and far higher crime rates to deal with.

    Can you imagine the recruiting message for getting new employees to work at said HQ? Come work in beautiful downtown Crimeville! AKs provided for your security! Only 12 muggings this week!

    Yep, awesome idea.

  • by RogueyWon (735973) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:46PM (#46335345) Journal

    What we have in a lot of cities - and London is an absolute exemplar of this (New York isn't quite as bad) - is a model of urban development which, through pricing and housing availability, forces most people to live in suburbs but commute to work in the city centre.

    There are big, big drawbacks to that model.

    First, your average citizen wastes a lot of time commuting. While travel-time isn't necessarily dead time in either productivity or leisure terms, the nature of commuter mass-transit makes it worse than most other types of journeys. People are crammed into high density vehicles, may not have a seat and may need to make frequent changes of bus/train. It's not enjoyable and it's very hard to be productive while going through it.

    Second, it places huge strains on your transport networks. It channels most of your commuter traffic into two huge peaks (usually a very sharp morning peak and a longer but still significant evening peak). Road travel generally just can't cope with the resultant congestion. Railways (including underground and light rail) are more effective at moving large numbers of people but have very high fixed infrastructure costs (a mile of railway costs many times more per annum to maintain than a mile of road), meaning they inevitably require large taxpayer subsidies. Worse still, because of the "peaky" nature of commuter traffic, you have to spec your mass-transit systems to handle the peaks and accept that they'll be pulling around mostly fresh air for at least 18 hours every day.

    And all of that congestion? Pretty terrible for the environment. High carbon emissions and, if you're relying on cars, buses or diesel trains, horrible for air quality as well.

    Ideally, you want people to live close to their workplaces. Some cities are better at that than others - ironically, often those which have evolved without much assistance from urban-planners (who historically have loved to neatly segment industrial, commercial and residential districts apart - a trend that SimCity hardly helped reduce).

    So google-buses aren't necessarily fantastic either, if you're moving people a long distance to an out-of-town campus. They're probably better than the city-centre model, because their traffic is more likely to be contra-flow. But ideally, you might have small-to-medium sized business conglomerations around a city, each with appropriate housing nearby.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:47PM (#46335359)

    I'm not sure you follow. Google run buses because driving is horrible, time consuming, unproductive, and because even in the suburbs land space for parking is expensive. They provide food because in the suburbs there are few other options.

    And why would reversing the direction of the buses so that they now go with the direction of the traffic jam, instead of against it make that problem better?

    Not only that, but only a minority (about 20-30%) of the people working at these companies live in the city, so reversing the buses would triple/quadruple the number of people taking them.

    Not only that, but it would get a whole bunch more employees to move into the city –given that the protests are about house prices being too high in SF, why would getting more people to move into SF help that?

  • by redmid17 (1217076) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:59PM (#46335545)
    Any major city, excepting Detroit, has a pretty nice immediate downtown and a ring of shitty stuff out of that. It's the non-gentrified areas around essentially the business districts and bar districts downtown. Chicago, Atlanta, NY, LA and most of other cities I've been to or lived in follow that model.
  • by jedidiah (1196) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @01:33PM (#46335995) Homepage

    Businesses don't control those things, local government does.

    Businesses have to keep themselves from going bankrupt. That includes doing things that are in their own interest and avoiding the most costly option possible.

    Businessmen can't afford to think/act like civil servants.

  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @01:37PM (#46336061)

    So, Google decided to do something about traffic. Instead of having dozens of cars on the roads, spewing greenhouse gasses and burning foreign oil, they decide to do the "green" thing and provide buses, and they are condemned for it?! Are these buses running off of fuel made from baby seals?

    Bullshit. The "green" thing would have been to put the office in a high-density area where the rail transit ALREADY FUCKING GOES!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @01:45PM (#46336161)

    marketers decided every American should have a single family home (detached home in the rest of the world)

    Americans decided they wanted to have single family homes. The US has unbelievable amounts of empty space compared to Europe. And living in a condo/apartment and being forced to listen to your neighbors sex/arguments is vastly overrated. Give me 3-4 acres in the country and a job in the burbs.

  • by jcbarlow (166225) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @02:25PM (#46336791)
    <quote><blockquote><div><p>Who the hell "likes" sharing walls with people?</p></div> </blockquote><p>No one. But it is the most efficient way to house people.</quote>

    By working to house folks "efficiently" we're just trying to postpone dealing with the real problem: there are just too many people for the planet to support.
  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @02:31PM (#46336885) Homepage Journal

    Bullshit. The "green" thing would have been to put the office in a high-density area where the rail transit ALREADY FUCKING GOES!

    So, you're wanting to limit putting the office ONLY in about 3-5 US cities?

    I mean, how many US cities can you think of, that already have a viable rail transit system?? NYC? Chicago...SF if you count the cable cars I guess....where else?

    Hell, I've rarely lived in a city that had a viable bus line that you'd consider using for any type of real transportation, and the main one I can think of is a tourist city like New Orleans, and even that is hit and miss at times.

  • by Ichijo (607641) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @03:06PM (#46337359) Homepage Journal

    Who the hell "likes" sharing walls with people?

    People who don't like high utility and property tax bills, people who don't like to do lawn maintenance, people who don't like being forced to own a car, people who don't like the social isolation of living in the suburbs, and so on.

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