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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.

 

Provided photo: New employees at the Xerox call center in Webster met today with Mike Zimmer, President of US Large Operations at Xerox, Heather Smith, Senior Vice President of Delivery Transformation and Global Capabilities at Xerox, Vincent Esposito, Regional Director of the Empire State Development Finger Lakes Regional Office, and Bill Carpenter, CEO of RTS to say thank you for the new commuter express service.

Provided photo: New employees at the Xerox call center in Webster met today with Mike Zimmer, President of US Large Operations at Xerox, Heather Smith, Senior Vice President of Delivery Transformation and Global Capabilities at Xerox, Vincent Esposito, Regional Director of the Empire State Development Finger Lakes Regional Office, and Bill Carpenter, CEO of RTS to say thank you for the new commuter express service.

Bus Selfie

Bus Selfie

A few days ago, I decided to take the bus downtown for jury duty. There’s a bus stop on Bay Street that’s only a block from my house. I figured spending $2 a day for round-trip bus fare beats $8 in parking. The RTS website indicated the trip would only take a half hour, door to door.

First, I had to find $2 in cash. I rarely have cash. For this trip, I not only needed cash, but I needed exact change. Fortunately, a friend gave me a couple singles the night before to save me the hassle of going to an ATM. It would be great if RTS allowed people to buy rides on their smartphones or swipe a credit card.

The RTS Bus App told me when the bus would arrive in real time. I was concerned about news of canceled morning trips, but my bus was on schedule. It arrived on time, to the minute. The ride downtown was quick, even with multiple stops.

The “Plan My Trip” feature on the RTS website indicated I could stay on the Route 39 bus for a few more stops to get off at State and Main, the closest stop to the Hall of Justice. At the transit center, the bus driver told me I had to come to the front and pay another $1. The additional half mile is considered a transfer. That struck me as ridiculous. The implication is that people coming from the eastern part of the city to the west side of downtown have to pay extra to get closer to their destinations and vice versa. It’s also not technically a transfer if you’re staying on the same bus. The bus driver was kind enough to let the extra buck slide, but for this trip only. The policy of using the transit center as THE central stop flies in the face of how people actually travel downtown. If this is how RTS wants to play it, there should be some kind of free downtown shuttle for people in this situation.

In the afternoon for my trip home, I chose to walk to the transit center to save the extra dollar. While I don’t mind walking, that extra half mile could be a deterrent for those who have mobility issues. It would also be a pain in bad weather. I’ve since learned there is an all-day pass available for $3, which makes that transfer 50 cents. This is probably the best option.

When I got to the transit center around 4 p.m., I was astonished at the number of teenagers. I was aware hundreds of kids use the transit center in the afternoon, but I was still shocked. Teens appeared to outnumber adults 30 to 1. The media has reported on the occasional violent incident and unruly behavior at the transit center, but I felt 100 percent safe. There were visible police officers and security guards. The teens were very well-behaved. My trip home was fast and uneventful.

Despite the fact the transit center was orderly, I can’t say it’s pleasant to be in an environment that resembles a high school cafeteria on steroids. The volume of teens at that hour was a big turnoff. I’m not sure why they were all there at once. I’m not sure why there were not a lot of adult passengers at this hour to provide more balance. It’s also very easy to see how a small incident could create a big problem. The city, school district and bus company are working on this issue. I think it’s great young people are using public transit and I would hate to see them restricted. This situation, however, seems untenable.

In summary, I’ll be using the bus for the remainder of my jury duty. It’s quick and doesn’t require navigating traffic and garages or paying for parking. Even though the transfer situation caught me off-guard, the bus fare is pretty darn cheap, especially compared to other cities. I would definitely recommend trying out RTS if you live on a bus line.

Related: Check out this ode to the Buffalo bus system. 

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Lessons from Baltimore: If the Bills want a downtown stadium, mass transit is key.

– Why would the company that profits from red light camera tickets develop an app to tell you where the cameras are located? Money and data.

– This is how Chattanooga is remaking itself with fast broadband. (Come on, Rochester!)

– The NCAA wanted Jim Boeheim to be a policeman, but that’s never been his style.

– NBC would be insane to let Brian Williams return.

– ‘Snowiest place in America’ title brings international fame to tiny Upstate village.

– Baby Dorothy? Vintage baby names are making a comeback.