Apple Transportation Program Stuck in the Past

Tom Fairchild is the director of Mobility Lab. This article was originally published by METRO Magazine.
Apple’s new Cupertino HQ will force its thousands of employees into long commutes, many of which will undoubtedly be made by driving alone. Photo: ##

As an avid iPhone user, I have bought into the sense that Apple could literally peer into the future and deliver me technology that I never realized I would so desperately need.

For years, Steve Jobs and company seem to have been our reliable guides to a better tomorrow. For new technology, Apple’s vision towards the future seems nearly flawless. But for corporate responsibility? Well, that’s a different story.

Apple’s decision to build a mammoth new headquarters in Cupertino, California — miles from public transportation and adequate housing — amounts to a corporate denunciation of sustainability and a giant corporate shrug to Mother Earth.

Leadership for the tech giant maintains that the new campus will offer “a serene environment reflecting Apple’s values of innovation, ease of use, and beauty.” But the simple fact is that many of Apple’s 13,000 employees will now be commuting to an isolated location 45 miles south of San Francisco.

This reality seems a world apart from Apple’s corporate communications, which state:

Our commute programs reduce traffic, smog, and GHG emissions by providing incentives for biking, using public transportation, and reducing the use of single-occupancy vehicles.

How exactly is this possible when the new headquarters is being built on a location without any existing public-transportation options?

Apple Headquarters rendering by the City of Cupertino.

It does sound nice that Apple is funding a $35 million transportation demand management (TDM) program encouraging employees to use corporate shuttles and carpools. However, even with these efforts in place, Apple predicts that at least 9,000 employees will drive alone to the new headquarters — resulting in a huge increase in emissions and clogged roadways.

Although TDM can mitigate the worst outcomes, even the best program cannot make up for a disastrous location. Having a TDM program at this facility is like Exxon having a program to wipe down baby seals after a spill.

You know who’s way more progressive and innovative on this than Apple? The federal government. Apple would have done well to have followed the White House directive for federal agencies that establishes:

an integrated strategy toward sustainability in the federal government, including efforts to operate high-performance sustainable buildings in sustainable locations and to strengthen the vitality and livability of the communities for federal agencies.

That Executive Order further directs agencies to advance regional and local integrated planning by “participating in regional transportation planning and recognizing existing community transportation infrastructure” and by:

ensuring that planning for new federal facilities or new leases includes consideration of sites that are pedestrian friendly, near existing employment centers, and accessible to public transit, and emphasizes existing central cities and (rural) town centers.

Soon the Federal Bureau of Investigation will select a site for its new headquarters in the Washington D.C. region. The selection is narrowing to two locations that are both adjacent to Metrorail stations. By locating near existing transportation infrastructure, the FBI will make a statement about its desire to create a sustainable work environment — and stands to beat Apple’s drive-alone rate to its new campus.

Successful TDM programs around the world make great contributions by encouraging better use of sustainable transportation options, such as walking, biking, public transportation, carpooling, and vanpooling. Regrettably, even with a best-case TDM program for shifting employee commuting patterns, Apple’s isolated location will result in a commuting nightmare for its employees with consequences for the entire Bay Area.

  • C Monroe

    Apple is controlled now by wall street, Steve Jobs has left the building. It will now become another Compaq, hp, etc. Corporate world does not like outside the box thinking and the executive board does not take public transit, it is beneath them.

  • Kevin Donovan
  • coolbabybookworm

    The employees of all the large companies in the Silicon Valley live throughout the Bay Area. Moving to San Francisco would put them further away from most of the employees’ residences in the South Bay, even if SF is better connected to the regional transportation network than Cupertino. While not a great location for anything but driving, it’s really Cupertino and most of the south bay that needs to get its transportation and housing issues in order.

  • murphstahoe

    The most unsustainable thing Apple could probably do is move the campus away from where it currently is. A truckload of Apple employees live in Cupertino/Sunnyvale/Campbell/Los Altos/etc… specifically because that is where they work. Imagine being an Apple employee living off of Homestead and walking to work, then having their office moved to who knows where….

  • Why don’t these campuses have to pay for feeder buses that connect to rail?

    Also, Apple only has a few electric car plugs, where there should be far more spread across a solar parking lot. The cars could then be shared during the day.

    A bike commuting contest would make good sense too, along with carpooling.

  • No, the design was completed while Jobs was still in charge.

  • murphstahoe

    Apple has a shuttle to Caltrain. And free employee share bikes on campus. But don’t let that get into the way of a nice rant.

  • Great, thank you. How would I know this?

  • murphstahoe

    Anytime I think “someone ought to” my first instinct is to use the evil google machine to look up the idea and find out that it’s already been implemented. Admittedly the Apple shuttles are not publicized on the Caltrain shuttles page, because they are their own corporate shuttles as opposed to the other ones which are funded by groups of companies and are open to the public, but you also said “Why don’t these campuses have to pay” and it turns out dozens of campuses already do pay…

  • theqin

    Honestly it is a problem with the south bay in general. Any business located near highway 280 is miles away from Caltrain, which is the closest non-bus transit option. Outside of some corporate shuttles which in no way could transport all of their employees, there is no public transit links anywhere near Apple, AMD, nVidia, Agilent and countless others. I guess there are some long term plans for some bus rapid transit, but seriously given the amount of congestion on highway 280, I have no idea why there are no proposals for a rail link running between 280 in San Jose and Page Mill and El Camino in Palo Alto.

  • 42apples

    The hills? Caltrain is already quite expensive, running along 280 would be even worse.

  • jonobate

    I’m not sure I agree with that. They could have moved their campus a few miles north to the Sunnyvale Caltrain station – there is an industrial area just east of the station that could have been redeveloped to meet their needs. This would result in a small increase in drive time for some of their South Bay employees, but would not affect drive time from the SF/Peninsula/East Bay, and would make Caltrain a viable option for those commuting from SF/Peninsula/East Bay.

  • Jame

    That would be useful legislation. Requiring any company with more than let’s say 500 employes locate their offices near transit (and this does not mean served by a bus that runs 6 times a day). I just can’t believe that any modern company, in the Bay Area, knowing the state of congestion in the region, would willfully locate in such a car centric location.

    Silicon Valley Business Journal has a great series about transportation in SV up:

  • disqus_e4qPyvtwW2

    because rich people don’t take transit (nor do they want it in their backyards)

  • disqus_e4qPyvtwW2

    I agree. I’d say despite all the news surrounding Google/Apple shuttles in SF, at least half if not more employees live in the South Bay.

  • murphstahoe

    The current campus is on 280 and 85, Sunnyvale Caltrain is actually sort of hard to access from 101, which by any measure is a much more congested freeway than 280. From Apple Campus to Sunnyvale Caltrain at peak it’s probably faster to bike than drive.

    Of course, when you are talking Cupertino vs Sunnyvale, Apple might simply be most concerned with which municipality plays nicest with them in terms of permits/tax breaks/etc….

  • murphstahoe

    I take the VTA #60 bus from Santa Clara Caltrain to nVidia, and I used to take the 55 from Sunnyvale Caltrain to AMD. They were both reliable and reasonably fast but the frequency sucks – therefore bike

  • theqin

    Caltrain is not expensive because of its fuel use.

    Repurpose a highway lane, public transit is far higher capacity than a vehicle lane. Also Foothill Expressway used to be a rail line, they should bring it back.

  • theqin

    Faster is Apple Campus to Mountain View Caltrain, which on 85 is the reverse commute direction. Also extremely few Caltrains stop at Sunnyvale in the reverse commute direction, whereas nearly all stop at MV.

  • Tom Fairchild

    The issue isn’t whether Apple is implementing programs to encourage employees commute via transit. The issue is that Apple selected an isolated location that makes alternatives to driving more difficult and less appealing. Operating shuttles to Caltrain are not the same as locating next to the station. Operating shuttles to dense walkable/bikeable residential districts where employees can walk to the shuttle stops is not the same as locating adjacent to such a district where employees can walk or bike to work.

  • Bolwerk

    It was Steve Jobs who turned it into the type of high cap, low-risk boutique firm it became. I don’t want to say they aren’t “innovative,” but the innovation is more marketing than technical. At least moreso than anyone wants to admit.

    (For example: Napster demonstrated a market for digital music. iTunes made it kosher with record companies, not viable for a mass audience.)

  • C Monroe

    What I am referring to is when Apple originally was full of Wall Street corporate types, they had differences with Steve Jobs. They didn’t like his concept of more expensive and reliable computers and were scared by all the pc clones. They staged a coup and kicked him to the curb. Started doing things just like everyone else. It wasn’t until near bankruptcy that their was a shareholder uprising that brought Steve Jobs back almost a decade later. He ran the company smart, giving it a upscale brand look. But since he died, The company now is scared again, especially since Samsung/Google have taken the smartphone market. They are now in the process of cloning Samsungs success instead of being innovating and coming up with something that will make others copy them.

  • Remy Marathe
  • Apple has been in Cupertino for nearly 40 years. Many of the long-time employees live within a few miles of the current HQ at Infinite Loop.


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