Other large employers should hop on this idea

Did you know that under a 1991 Washington law, employers with more than 100 workers are required to provide some sort of transportation program and must encourage alternatives to one-person cars?

Of course, in this land of lawyers, “some sort of transportation program” could be interpreted as having a bus stop within a mile of the business … which in turn could be interpreted as “encouragement” to take a bus over a personal vehicle.

But Microsoft Corp., that major creator of computers and commuters, recently announced a plan to get people out of their cars — by offering its own bus system to employees. The 14-bus system will debut later this month. At the outset, it will only handle about 1,000 workers a day — a small percentage of Microsoft’s 35,000 employees. But the fact that Microsoft is jumping right in with this idea is encouraging and should influence other employers.

Being Microsoft, this is no creaky, 20th century commuter bus. Seven of the buses will be large, with bike storage. Each seat will have an electrical outlet and on-board wireless Internet access. Seven of the midsize buses will be used for neighborhood pickups. The bus system grew out of employee suggestions.

Now, not every employer with more than 100 workers can offer a snazzy bus service. But they can offer bus passes, coordinate carpools, vanpools and perhaps a less-snazzy bus service. They can also work with transit agencies for extra service.

Such bus service especially makes sense for workplaces with multiple shifts — such as hospitals and Boeing. Snohomish County’s Community Transit and King County Metro work closely with Boeing, which puts some 70,000 commuters on the road each day. Boeing shares demographic data with those transit agencies to build better routes. But with that many workers, there are not enough “better” routes.

Boeing employees are big users of van pools, but the system has a shortage of vehicles. John Hendricks, who manages commuting issues for Boeing nationally, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the company would not consider a private bus system because of liability and the varying needs of employees.

That’s a disappointing reaction, especially considering the number of commuters who could be served. We don’t know what “the varying needs of employees” might mean, but at Microsoft, part of the reason for starting the bus system was to better recruit and retain workers who see sitting in their cars, stuck in traffic for hours as a bad thing.

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