Sunday, March 11, 2007

Transit, by Google

What do you do when you need employees in a competitive environment, and stock options and salary are really not enough to distinguish you? Well, after you add free gourmet meals, onsite oil changes and car washes, and other lifestyle perks, you look at what the pain points for the Silicon Valley worker are: commuting. And then? If you're Google, you start a luxury bus line.

Yes, the Goog is now one of the largest transit system operators in the Bay Area. This New York Times article describes what transit is like, Google style:
"The company now ferries about 1,200 employees to and from Google daily — nearly one-fourth of its local work force — aboard 32 shuttle buses equipped with comfortable leather seats and wireless Internet access. Bicycles are allowed on exterior racks, and dogs on forward seats, or on their owners’ laps if the buses run full.

Riders can sign up to receive alerts on their computers and cellphones when buses run late. They also get to burnish their green credentials, not just for ditching their cars, but because all Google shuttles run on biodiesel. Oh, and the shuttles are free.

WiFi, pets, bikes and comfort? Zero environmental impact? FREE? This is living. The article goes on, later, to describe that similar efforts are done by Cisco and Yahoo. In San Francisco, I see the Williams Sonoma luxury coaches delivering workers to BART or the Ferry, from their HQ by Ghirardelli Square every day.

Now, why not take this one step further? Let companies bid on the right to operate public transit? Essentially, privatize it: companies would get the benefit of always having their employees have easy access to work, while being required to still serve areas that are lower income and no direct benefit to them. How to convince them of the latter? Let them install ads, and realize income. Hell, with WiFi on the buses, you could even have touchscreens, and do pay per click ads. I think Google and Yahoo know something about this!

Of course, San Francisco has another approach: make transit free. A bold social experiment, if you combined it with privatized lines like Google's, you just might have a winner.

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