In early 2012, I wrote about the enormous government help Xerox received to open a call center at its Webster campus. The incentives were so generous, Xerox essentially didn’t pay for the retrofit of one of its buildings. Taxpayers subsidized Xerox so it could offer low-wage jobs.
Now, Xerox is getting help again. The state is kicking in money to help RTS get workers to the remote facility. RTS is reinstating a late night line, as well as weekend service.
In a press release, Heather L. Smith, Senior Vice President of Delivery Transformation and Global Capabilities for Xerox Business Services, said:
“The impact of the bus reinstatement is profound. When we announced this to our employees, we were overcome by their positive and emotional response. Our employees are conscientious and do what it takes to get to work on time. In fact, one woman shared that taking the bus means she will no longer spend $50 a day to get to and from work.”
It doesn’t seem to occur to Xerox it played a role in that poor woman’s plight when it decided to open a call center where few people live, one that’s not regularly serviced by transit, and to which it is nearly impossible to walk or bike.
In the future, companies seeking government help to add jobs should be required to locate those jobs near their employee base. If they choose not to, they should be required to pay RTS for their transportation. (Some companies and nursing homes, including Xerox, already pay RTS to cover some of the cost of getting employees to work.) Xerox got another government handout when it got the state to pay for this bus line.
Here’s why the idea of locating jobs near people is important. The Brookings Institution found only two-thirds of jobs in the Rochester metropolitan region are in places served by buses. Even worse, fewer than one-third of residents can get to a job within 90 minutes on a bus. The study found people have an easier time getting to jobs in the city than in the suburbs. Almost all city residents live super close to a bus stop.
When jobs sprawl, there are costs to infrastructure and the environment. But there are also social costs. Poor people get left behind. The Democrat and Chronicle recently reported in three poor neighborhoods on the east side of the city:
Good luck finding a job in these parts of the city, where fewer than one in 10 residents is employed in the neighborhood where he or she lives. More than half of residents who do have jobs are forced to commute to the suburbs.
It’s great Xerox call center workers can now access transit. But RTS cannot do this for all jobs in the suburbs. There has to be critical mass for regular routes. Our government leaders must take into account where jobs are located and who is expected to fill those jobs the next time a CEO comes looking for a handout.