It's Time to Take Suburban Office Shuttles Seriously
Over the past four years, at least 54 companies have either relocated from the suburbs to the CBD or opened satellite offices downtown. Could employee shuttles to suburban offices reverse the trend?
JLL director of research Christian Beaudoin and SVP Mark Kolar think it’s worth a look. Christian looked to Bishop Ranch Office Park, a 9M SF office complex home to 550 tenants located 35 miles from San Francisco, for inspiration. Landlord Sunset Development Company provides free shuttle buses for employees working at Bishop Ranch and believes the program is a major factor in Bishop Ranch’s 95% occupancy rate. One of the suburbs' biggest draws is its lower costs, and Christian says shuttles don't impact that dramatically. The average annual rent of a 100k SF office building with 400 employees in the suburbs is $2.3M, compared to $3.6M in the city. If 100 employees used shuttle bus service during the workweek at an average cost of $8 per day, the annual rent with transportation costs in the suburbs is still $2.5M.
Mark believes these programs would be beneficial for companies near O’Hare, in border suburbs such as Oak Brook, and in larger towns with dining and nightlife in large TIF areas like Schaumburg. Mark says the suburbs are still a good value for many companies but shuttles are only one piece of the puzzle. Solid amenities and attractive office space also need to be in place. Christian adds the Chicago area is at a demographic turning point with young talent clearly favoring city living. Companies that neglect this issue will find it harder to attract those younger workers.
The idea's already being tested here: Hamilton Partners launched a shuttle to its Downers Grove HQ at the Esplanade of Locust Point in April. Partner Phil Sheridan says Hamilton explored shuttle service after learning the average commute of its tenants’ employees from Chicago’s Union Station was 95 minutes and required a train and two bus connections.
The "shuttle bug" is a subsidized program; Hamilton Partners pays 20% to run the shuttle and the Regional Transportation Authority picks up the rest. So far the results are encouraging. Phil says the program has 28 riders and is growing. On the shuttle, overall commute times from Chicago average 38 minutes and workers from Aurora and other suburbs also utilize the program. One tenant called the program “life changing.” Phil says Hamilton’s goal for the program is 100 riders by next April, a target he believes is within reach.