New generation of policymakers, planners needed to solve metro area traffic congestion

Liccardo, who also sits on the commission board, said reducing traffic congestion in the South Bay will require cities to add more housing units instead of simply focusing on job growth, and it might require regional incentives and penalties on cities.“We need to get people living closer to where they work,” Liccardo said.

Source: Highways to hell: Bay Area’s worst commutes ranked by MTC – SFChronicle.com

True for those who must be on site for their work. Not true for most knowledge workers who thanks to today’s information and communications technology — much of it innovated in the Bay Area. A new generation of policymakers and planners is needed that recognizes the potential of ICT to reduce the need for daily commute trips that substantially contribute to the enormous transportation demand that’s choking the Bay Area and other metros.

Externalizing the cost of the daily commute

Just a day after a United Nations panel called for urgent action on climate change, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded Monday to one American researcher for his work on the economics of a warming planet and to another whose study of innovation raises hopes that people can do something about it.The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the $1-million prize Monday to William Nordhaus of Yale University and Paul Romer of New York University. Nordhaus, 77, who has been called “the father of climate change economics,” developed models that suggest how governments can fight global warming. He has endorsed a universal tax on carbon, which would require polluters to pay for the costs that their emissions impose on society.

Source: Nobel in economics goes to two Americans for studying climate change and sustainable growth – Los Angeles Times

Or as economists term it, externalizing the costs. In the Industrial Age that brought the centralization of workplaces, the environmental as well as personal costs of daily commuting were externalized onto society and workers, respectively.

Now that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) allows knowledge workers at least to work where they live, acceptance of those costs is likely to meet with increased resistance. Especially if high carbon taxes are adopted and commuters face rising fuel and other transportation costs. And for good reason. The externalization and bearing of those costs no longer makes sense.

ICT to reduce commute trips and associated vehicle emissions takes on greater urgency as U.N. report calls for “aggressive action” to cool global climate

Not long after the first Earth Day in April 1970, a Los Angeles aerospace engineer as engineers are wont to do saw a problem and came up with a solution to fix it. The problem Jack Nilles saw in his daily drive to the office was bumper to bumper traffic and bad air quality. His solution: substituting telecommunications for commute induced transportation demand by establishing satellite offices in “bedroom communities” where people lived to avoid the trip to centralized commuter offices. The environmental benefit of the solution Nilles proposed nearly five decades ago takes on increased urgency with the publication of a report issued today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning of rapidly accelerating global warming.

Absent aggressive action, many effects once expected only several decades in the future will arrive by 2040, and at the lower temperature, the report shows. “It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime,” said Myles Allen, an Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report.

To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming, the report said, greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.

Turning the global economy on a dime is challenging to say the least. Cutting motor vehicle emissions associated with commuting is one measure that could be implemented relatively quickly, especially considering today’s information and communications technology is far more advanced than when Nilles first came up with his idea in the early 1970s, thanks to the proliferation of Internet protocol-based telecommunications.

Advanced telecommunications infrastructure redraws socioeconomy

Virtually everything has changed in the internet age. There were times when people flocked to cities for work. Lured by the opportunity for prosperity, people moved to major cities, driving massive population growth. During the Industrial Revolution, people moved to places such as Detroit to work on the assembly lines of automotive manufacturers, and in the tech boom, professionals flocked to Austin, Boston and Silicon Valley. Now these metro areas are bursting at the seams. Though a major city can be attractive for professional, educational or social reasons, rural communities are equally attractive and full of opportunities – but only if they have the great equalizer: access to high-speed internet. The internet boom – the current era – introduced the idea of “knowledge workers.” Today, instead of moving to a city to pursue a specific field of work, knowledge workers can work from anywhere in the country for major companies. Instead of moving to San Jose to work at a technology company headquarters, a knowledge worker can deliver that same work, remotely, from a town in the Sierras or the middle of Wisconsin. With high-speed internet access, small towns have the opportunity to offer “big city jobs.”

* * *

The social case that enables transformation from labor to knowledge work is arguably greater in magnitude. The combination of new levels of  consumption and productivity changes the lives of individuals, families and entire communities. This combined opportunity has true potential for industrial diversification and economic growth that also improves the quality of life for people who use the network to not only consume but also to deliver their work.

http://www.bbcmag.com/2018mags/Aug_Sep/BBC_Aug18_ProsperityBBAccess.pdf

The commute conundrum and the California fuel tax increase

Getting knowledge workers off congested freeways by substituting the use of information and communications technology (ICT) for commuting was first proposed by visionary Jack Nilles in the early 1970s. Decades later, the idea only has grown only better. Commuting sucked then and sucks even more today with more commuters. A half century of experience shows adding more lanes to highways to make commute traffic flow more easily doesn’t help in the long run since the promise of smoother commutes makes commuting more palatable. Until yet more cars fill those new lanes and it no longer is.

In California – home to some of the longest and worst commutes in the nation and where Nilles came up with his brilliant idea – housing and transportation economics and tax policy are complicating the picture. At the threshold of the third decade of the 21st century, ICT and the development of the Internet since Nilles’s eureka moment has effectively obsoleted daily commuting for knowledge workers. But it hasn’t for those who don’t work in knowledge industries such as retail, food service, personal services, construction, manufacturing, transportation, warehousing and agriculture. They are paid only if they physically show up at their workplaces. These workers typically earn less than knowledge workers and are more likely to drive alone to work than use public transit or other forms of transportation. ICT can certainly lessen their personal commuting burden by getting knowledge workers off the highways during commute hours. Fewer commuting knowledge workers means fewer cars and easier and shorter commute trips. But fewer knowledge workers commuting translates to less fuel tax revenue, shifting the tax burden to those who must still commute to a distant workplace. Mitch Turck elaborates in a Forbes column:

Taking a significant chunk of commuters off the road and into their home offices would create a tipping point in remaining drivers’ financial obligations — a regressive and unsustainable “commuter penalty” that would undoubtedly have to be reassessed as a road maintenance tax for all residents. Considering the U.S. is currently using roads more than ever, but hasn’t increased the gas tax in a quarter-century, one can only wish the best of luck to any politician tasked with such an overhaul.

It is this cohort from which proponents of a California ballot measure this November proposing to repeal a recently imposed fuel tax and vehicle registration fee increase to pay for road maintenance and mass transit hope to draw support according to the San Francisco Chronicle:

Polling by Prop. 6 consultants shows that the measure appeals to voters in suburbs and rural areas, especially the Inland Empire, where some residents drive upward of 100 miles a day to get to their jobs. “These are places where people have long drives, and they’re the ones who will be most angry about these taxes,” said campaign consultant David Gilliard.

“This tax affects everybody, but it hits the working poor the hardest,” talk show host Carl DeMaio, chairman of the repeal campaign, told the newspaper:

“We’re going to win,” he told The Chronicle, insisting that his side has the more compelling argument. Supporters of the repeal say the 12 cents-per-gallon gas excise tax and increased vehicle registration fees passed last year by the Legislature and signed by Brown create hardships for working-class families.

Those working-class families have been pushed to the edges of high cost metro areas like the San Francisco Bay Area by housing market economics that make it more affordable there than in the centers and inner suburbs where they work. Those same economics have driven more highly paid knowledge workers farther from their commute-in offices in search of housing that comports with their incomes. Among them, those forced to commute with journeys approaching and exceeding one hour are likely to support the repeal effort, since they are most likely to support anything that will reduce their significant personal commute burden in the short term over any future road improvements.

ICT poised to revolutionize knowledge work as profoundly as the automobile and freeways did in the 1950s.

Gov, like an increasing number of Californians, has an extreme commute to her job. She works in communications at a non-profit organization about 30 miles away, up the notorious 405 to Santa Monica. On good days it takes an hour and a half each way, on the worst days it’s two and a half hours each way.“It’s literally like a part-time job,” she said. Gov’s boyfriend has a similarly long commute into Los Angeles. They wish they could live closer in, but homes closer to their jobs were way out of their price range. To afford to buy here a lot more people are living like Jenny Gov – spending more of their day in ever worsening traffic, leaving little time to spend with family and neighbors, coaching little league or exploring the wonders of California.

Brian Taylor, an urban planning professor who directs the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles said the housing crisis has exacerbated the dilemma in recent years, as new housing construction has lagged in parts of the state where well-paid employment in our more knowledge-based economy has multiplied.

Source: High Home Prices And Congestion Shrink The California Dream – capradio.org

Image result for los angeles traffic congestionChances are Ms. Gov is a knowledge worker and perhaps her boyfriend is as well. When Los Angeles freeways first opened in the 1950s, it was possible to get anywhere in the basin in about 20 minutes. Now they are so clogged daily commuting has become unbearable. It’s no longer as feasible to live in one community and work in another as it was in the golden age of the California freeway, the L.A. car culture and cheap fuel. Nor does it any longer make sense to spend hours commuting to use a computer in a centralized commute-in office.

Now on the threshold to the 2020s and beyond, a shift as profound as how the automobile and the freeway defined daily work life is at hand. It’s Internet-fueled information and communications technology (ICT) that makes it possible to do knowledge work in the communities where knowledge workers live. That gets them off the freeways on work days and would likely make a sizable contribution to improving the region’s notoriously poor air quality. Not to mention the quality of life of lots of Californians who as this story reports find the California dream elusive as they spend much of their lives engaged in long commutes.

CalEPA growing, must cut cubicles for regulators | The Sacramento Bee

California can’t fit all of its environmental regulators in its 25-story Environmental Protection Agency headquarters, and it doesn’t want to shell out tens of millions of dollars to find them new digs, either.Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration found a solution that will sound familiar to any longtime traveler squeezing his knees into tight airplane seats: His agency wants to slash the size of standard cubicles in the EPA headquarters.The administration is asking lawmakers to set aside $23 million in next year’s budget to gradually reconfigure the headquarters so it can fit another 1,100 workers in downtown Sacramento. The headquarters today has 2,800 cubicles.


Source: CalEPA growing, must cut cubicles for regulators | The Sacramento Bee

There’s another way of dealing with this problem: Having staff work outside of the centralized, commute-in office in home offices and neighborhood co-working spaces. Despite state policy dating back to the late 1980s, the state continues to operate as if it were 1975 and there was no Internet or today’s advanced information and communications technologies, requiring staff to report daily to cubicle farms.

One might think the frugal Brown administration would be eager to avoid the cost of “officing” all those state workers. Not to mention the transportation demand they create and associated carbon emissions the Brown administration wants to reduce.

Self-driving cars. Scooters. The future of commuting to work is here

From crowdsourced shuttle buses to companies offering rides to lure top talent, here are concepts used in some cities that could one day help your morning commute.

Source: Self-driving cars. Scooters. The future of commuting to work is here

This is applying state of the art technology to the Industrial Age practice of transporting knowledge workers to offices rather than utilizing information and communications technologies of the Information Age to decentralize knowledge work, bringing it to communities where people live.

It may look like progress. But in fact it’s regressive and reflects a 1950s mindset wherein knowledge work can only be performed in centralized, commute in offices. It does little to relieve the daily time suck of the commute. It’s time to put the Industrial Age in the past and truly evolve.

As suburbanites face growing “nightmare” commutes, co-working spaces offer relief

Sacramento like other California metros finds its suburbs at an inflection point. In the 1950s and 1960s, the car was (and still is) king, gas was cheap and the state had gleaming new concrete freeways to facilitate commuting to a distant office.

Now the Golden State’s freeways are at a major maintenance interval and a lot more knowledge workers pack onto them each workday, making for “nightmare commutes,” according to the February 2018 issue of the region’s business magazine, Comstock’s. A logical solution is to bring knowledge work to the suburbs where people live to get them out of their cars, particularly given the decades long difficulty planners have encountered encouraging the use of public transit:

Suburbs are also looking at opportunities for residents to work where they live, and several are adopting the concept of coworking spaces — a shared workspace for entrepreneurs and business professionals from all industries. The concept alleviates congested commutes and the high cost of office space, provides access to a network of business professionals and skill development classes, and rents offices and conference rooms for meetings.

Source: Slumber Party

Peter Thiel: ICT offers low cost, green solution to metro area transportation, housing challenges

Venture capitalist and PayPal founder Peter Thiel was recently interviewed on the Fox Business Network on the city of the future. Thiel talked about the two major shortcomings of today’s city as a situs for knowledge work concentrated in centralized metro commute-in offices: transportation and housing. Transportation systems – roads, highways and public transit – are “badly inadequate” in most metros, Thiel said, and housing costs are exorbitant. Both leave knowledge workers with two bad choices. “People need to have super long commutes or live in small apartments near the city centers where they have to spend all of their salaries on the apartments,” Thiel explained.

That’s where information and communications technology (ICT) can provide a workaround by allowing knowledge work to be dispersed outside of urban centers, according to Thiel. ICT solves the housing problem since it provides access to more affordable housing while at the same time eliminating the need for daily commute trips.

The idea isn’t new and has spawned years of debate despite the strong benefit in solving the housing and transportation challenge ever since Jack Nilles coined the term “telecommuting” in the 1970s. That debate continues to play out nearly two decades into the new century among organizations – ironically including ICT innovators like Yahoo, HP, Apple and IBM – that resist substituting ICT for transportation, fearing a geographically dispersed workforce won’t be as productive or collaborative as one co-located in a centralized, commute-in office setting. Thiel explains:

The ICT version (of transportation) people have talked about for decades is telecommuting. And so would there be some way so that you won’t need transportation at all, you could just do your work remotely. For a variety of reasons this has not worked over the last 30, 40 years people have been talking about it. The [perceived] problem generally is that people who work from their homes, they don’t work as hard. A lot of the value of work comes from talking to people in various ways.

However, Thiel notes management practices are changing to overcome those concerns that concentrate on managing the production and delivery of the work product. That focus necessarily forces a degree of diligence and collaboration to get the work done, he implies.

I think we’re starting to see more and more of this telecommuting in Silicon Valley and elsewhere where people are finding small teams of developers outside of Silicon Valley, there are ways to sort of bundle, put the work in certain packages that you allocate to different people. So I think maybe one of the end runs around the transportation system will be telecommuting. That’s a trend that’s underrated that’s worth exploring a lot more.