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San Francisco’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission reportedly wants companies with 50 or more employees to cap car commutes to 40% of their workforce by 2035, as part of a state goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions.
The transit planning agency voted unanimously to advance the proposal. Other workers could walk, bike, or take public transit to offices or stay home. Carpooling would be subject to the cap. However, agricultural businesses that lack public transit options would be exempt.
Though likely to spark future opposition, and it’s unclear how lawmakers would craft these laws or enforce them, the commuter mandate will require state legislation to be legally binding. The proposed mandate would be one of the most restrictive in the country. The measure will replace a controversial proposal advanced in Sep. that would have required large companies to keep 60% of workers at home even after the coronavirus pandemic.
Critics said the earlier plan would hurt public transit agencies that are already struggling from the coronavirus pandemic and further falter economic activity in urban centers like downtown San Francisco. They also said it would punish people who have remote work challenges, like having multiple roommates. Opponents of the earlier plan were more supportive of the new proposal, though.
Bay Area Council CEO Jim Wunderman commented in a statement how the work-from-home mandate was the wrong solution and this new mandate is better: “The compromise will help revitalize downtowns, and gives business critical flexibility to have workers carpool, use public transit, ride bikes or walk, or even work remotely, but by their own choice.”
The policy measure is part of Plan Bay Area 2050, which is a regional plan that is required for local transit agencies to obtain state funding of $100 million or more per year. The plan now requires a study of impacts and a full environmental review, and a final vote is expected for next fall.
“This is a good decision for our city, our region, and our economy,” Breed reportedly said in a statement. “We need to strengthen our regional transportation system and improve alternative ways of getting around our City.”
Restricting car usage will undoubtedly be controversial, because as the MTC reported, as of 2015, 75% of Bay Area commuters drove to work, 14% used public transit, 5% walked or biked and 6% worked from home. MTC’s goal in 2050 is to have less than half of commuters drive and a quarter or less work from home.
There are few precedents for MTC’s plan, including a 1987 mandate in Los Angeles requiring companies with 100 or more employees to find car alternatives under Regulation XV. The program is no longer active.
Nick Josefowitz, an MTC commissioner and chief policy officer at SPUR, an urban planning think tank, hailed the new proposal after previously opposing the work-from-home mandate, saying: “This is a huge step forward. Replacing a work-from-home mandate with a more flexible program to reduce congestion and pollution from driving is much better for workers, business, transit operators and the region as a whole. It also doesn’t penalize all those who walk, bike or take transit to work.”
Moreover, the plan also calls for building more housing near transit, adding rail lines, and expanding public transit.