A corporate program improves the employee commuting experience while reducing the number of cars arriving on campus — and the company’s carbon footprint.
IS YOUR DAY punctuated by traffic? Morning and evening, do you sit in your car on congested roadways, wondering if there’s enough time to pick up shirts at the dry cleaners and grab something for dinner as the commute gets longer and your “me time” gets shorter? The commute and the search for parking inevitably result in lost time, lost productivity and frustration. In suburban Redmond, Washington, as Microsoft’s corporate headquarters has grown, the company has proactively sought ways to mitigate traffic congestion and support both the mobility (and sanity) of its employees and the health of its community and the environment.
Managed by Microsoft’s Real Estate and Facilities Group, the company’s Commute program has spent the last decade crafting outside-the-box commuter solutions for its employees in an area where public transportation doesn’t always serve all locations optimally. Each day, more than 44,400 full-time Microsoft employees and contingent staff commute to the 500-acre campus from dozens of surrounding cities. They come by car, bus, ferry, bike and/or train, sometimes travelling up to two hours each way.
The goals of the Commute program, which has evolved since Microsoft established its first shuttle service in the early 1990s, have always been to improve the employee commute experience and significantly reduce the company’s carbon footprint. The RE&F Group knew a far-reaching, flexible transportation strategy was inevitable. Then, in 1991, the Washington State Legislature passed the Commute Trip Reduction Law, which called on employers to encourage their workers to drive alone less often and reduce carbon emissions. In 2007, an agreement between the city of Redmond and Microsoft resulted in a transportation management program (TMP) for all Microsoft worksites in Redmond, with the goal of reducing single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) commuting to 60 percent of the corporate population. A lot of work had to be done.
Microsoft hit the ground running, improving commuter choices, expanding employee awareness and calling for employees to take action.
Campus Shuttle Service
Microsoft has long offered an extensive shuttle service. Employees, vendors and guests can board Microsoft Shuttles at designated stops to travel around the campus. They can also book shuttles via phone or app for a customized trip. Now, in 2016, Microsoft offers 198 shuttles and an average seven-minute wait time at all scheduled stops. Far fewer people drive personal cars across campus for meetings; instead, more than 6,000 employees have the option to negotiate campus daily on shuttles.
By the 1990s, parking on the campus was getting tight. By 2000, there just wasn’t enough of it; there were too many cars and too few spots. Construction of the West Campus alleviated some parking issues with more surface parking lots and a huge underground garage. This created a temporary parking reprieve. A long-term parking solution has proven more complex. The transportation program has had to tackle commuting itself.
First, for employees who drive to campus, Microsoft rewards those who carpool or vanpool with premier parking spots at their buildings. Vanpoolers also receive a $100/month subsidy. The goals of these rewards are to decrease overall car traffic to the area and to minimize the rate of SOV commuting. Product Manager Nancy Crowell shares, “My vanpool from Skagit Valley gets me to and from campus while I catnap. Thankfully, early morning commutes don’t feel quite so early anymore.”
Second, Microsoft has devised ways for employees to conveniently commute without cars, by using regional transit passes that provide unlimited rides on public transportation in the Puget Sound area as well as the company’s fleet of Connector buses.
Initially rolled out in 2007, Microsoft’s fleet of Connector buses picks up riders at 50 stops around the Greater Seattle area. These commuter buses bring employees to the Redmond campus and return them to their stops at the end of the day. There are now 89 Connector buses in the multi-million dollar Microsoft fleet and over 21 Connector bus routes transporting an average of 1,800 riders on at least three daily round trips per week. Self-driven commutes to campus have been reduced by 5.3 million trips per year. Environmentally speaking, that’s a 69.3 million-pound reduction in carbon emissions and a staggering $10.2 million in combined fuel expenses saved by Connector riders.
A lot of thought has gone into making the Connector fleet comfortable and appealing to employees. The busses are equipped with Wi-Fi and 110-volt power at most seats; the three largest buses are also outfitted with Xbox capabilities. Thus it makes little difference whether employees need revving up in the morning or winding down in the afternoon; the Connector buses enable them to relax or focus on work. One employee reports, “I use my commute time on Connector to get a jump on my day. No one interrupts me. The bus is quiet.”
Bicycle Rider Reimbursement Program
Microsoft strives to support the lifestyles of employees who bike to work. Both avid cyclists and occasional bike commuters love the cycling program’s subsidized tuneups, secure bike cages, showers and towels. An annual Bike to Work Day event inspires more employees to join every year.
All of these programs help Microsoft keep cars off the roads — and eliminate the need for additional parking. Microsoft remains receptive to other ways to reduce its carbon footprint and support employees’ healthy lifestyle choices. Over the last few years, for instance, the company has installed 38 Level 2 electric vehicle charging stations on campus with a total of 76 ports, and plans to add more EV stations every year. It is also working to reduce wait times for shuttles and investigating new technologies and programs to expand commuting options. In 2016, Micro- soft retired some older buses and rolled out new, larger vehicles.
Remember those state-legislated SOV requirements? The symbiosis between corporate Microsoft and its employees has successfully reduced the daily SOV commuting rate from 75 percent in 2004 to an impressive 57 percent in 2016.
Microsoft employees regularly report that the Commute program has been a “game changer.” Transportation planning has also strengthened the company’s ability to recruit prospective talent.
Time is precious; people don’t want to waste it commuting. Microsoft has never lost sight of that or of its goals: environmental sustainability, reducing productivity loss and supporting the healthy lifestyles of the community and its employees. All the lights ahead are green, both literally and figuratively.