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From Technology To Transit-Oriented Development: How Transportation Advances Are Changing Commutes

The way people get to and from work (and navigate around the cities where they live or work) is changing, and those who provide the means of transportation are looking at new ways to address both ridership and the demands of commuters.

Dialog's Vance Harris, who moderated, Chariot's Dan Grossman, Stanford University's Jessica Alba, BART's Sean Brooks, Overra Construction's Vinson Heine and Caltrain's Jim Hartnett on the transit panel at Bisnow's Office West event in San Francisco.

Eventually, the hope is to create a commute that is more seamless and valuable to each rider, while continuing to decrease car traffic. For example, Caltrain shuttles about 100,000 riders a day around the Bay Area, reducing the amount driven on the area's congested highways by 1.3 million miles each day, said San Mateo County Transit District General Manager and CEO Jim Hartnett, who oversees Caltrain services.

"If you don't take public transit, thank the people who do," he said.

When shuttle companies such as Ford's Chariot — which shuttles many employees in the area either to local transit hubs or directly to their offices — first came on the scene, they were seen as a competitor for transit, such as Bay Area Rapid Transit or Caltrain. But some of that perception has shifted as it has become more apparent that companies like Chariot solve the first- and last-mile problem of getting people to and from transit stations and home or work.

"Shared mobility works best in transit-rich markets," Chariot CEO Dan Grossman said.

With the addition of other modes of transportation finding more frequent use, such as bikes, scooters or Uber and Lyft, people are making use of whichever combination makes the most sense on any given day.

"We really do fit and work together," Hartnett said. "The private mobility providers are an integral part of the public mobility providers."

Attendees network near the Chariot booth at Bisnow's Office West event.

The transportation discussion was part of the greater dialogue last week at Bisnow's all-day Office West event at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco last week. Panelists discussed topics including what was driving the big leases in the Bay Area, the amenities tenants are looking for, the need for philanthropy and how the region will weather another correction. The discussion of transit ranged from today's challenges to future possibilities.

The hope for the future is to get all means of transportation on the table for commuters so they don't have to hop in their cars to get somewhere, Stanford University Transportation Policy Manager Jessica Alba said. She said there are two possible futures as new technology, such as autonomous vehicles, becomes more commonplace.

There is the hellish future where everyone has their own autonomous car and spends an increasing amount of time in that car just to get to where they need to go. Or there is the future where fleets of autonomous cars become part of the solution, along with all of the other modes of transportation.

For that future to work, there needs to be better communication across cities, companies and organizations — and the use of technology could help.

The speakers envision an app that could help draw together information on all of the types of transportation available between a person's starting point and destination, then let them choose what combination works best, feeding them a route and schedule based on all of that information. The goal is to make the trip to work more seamless, Alba said.

Rendering of the proposed mixed-use development for the Lake Merritt BART station site

Even as future plans are made for coordinating better transit across the region, moves are being made now to change the commute.

Bay Area Rapid Transit is taking a hard look at its parking lots, and while parking will still be a key component at some stations, others may have no parking at all, said Sean Brooks, BART's department manager of real estate and property development.

BART has made a commitment to transit-oriented developments on property it owns near its stations, having completed 12 developments at 11 stations so far that total 1,975 housing units and 194K SF of commercial space. Multiple additional projects are planned, including several more in the East Bay, such as the Lake Merritt development in Oakland with office, residential and affordable housing that will be developed by the East Bay Asian Local Development Corp. and Strada Investment Group.

Many of these East Bay projects have a large office component. BART plans to have 20,000 new housing units on its property and more than 4M SF of commercial space by 2040, he said.

Such efforts not only appeal to companies that wish to have their offices near transit or residents who want a quick commute to work, but also have the potential to help BART shift its ridership to accommodate more people, Brooks said.

He said commuters who take BART are often driving to the station's parking lots early in the morning to make sure they get a parking space. But someone who lives near the station could opt to walk or bike over much later to catch the train, shifting some of that ridership to later in the morning when the trains are less crowded.

Also, though the trains headed into the city are full on weekday mornings, those headed back into the East Bay are not, he said. Adding more employers in the East Bay could create more opportunities for those who live in the city to take those less-crowded trains to jobs in new offices by the East Bay BART stations.

BART's Sean Brooks, Overra Construction's Vinson Heine and Caltrain's Jim Hartnett on the transit panel at Bisnow's Office West event in San Francisco

Transit is the core of a widespread solution to traffic congestion problems, as is the creation of vibrant, walkable communities, Alba said. As for her utopian scenario with seamless transportation solutions, there are possibilities to make that even more enticing for riders.

During the question-and-answer session for the panel, one of the audience members mentioned how subway passengers in South Korea could snap a code for groceries on their phones at the start of their trip and schedule delivery for when they get home.

Such added perks could bring in additional revenue for Chariot while also making the shuttle service more attractive to riders by making it more integrated into their daily lives, Grossman said.

He is looking into a program where Chariot riders would put in an order for a prepared meal in the morning on their ride in to work and then the shuttle that picked them up in the evening would have their orders. He said he is also considering whether Chariot could work with Amazon Locker to bring riders their packages. There are all sorts of possibilities, he said.

Check out a slideshow from Bisnow's Office West event below:

Bisnow Office Leasing & Development West