Monday, February 11, 2013

A search for more sustainable business in Vancouver

I recently saw that the government is wanting to introduce a sales tax to help improve the transportation services in the lower mainland. There was massive uproar from people who claim that they're already paying too much ($151 per month for 3-zones). While I do agree that the costs of living in Vancouver are becoming insane, I do believe that the government is doing a great job of keeping the service up and running.

The Skytrain is the backbone of our city. The interesting thing about Vancouver is that the core of downtown is full during work hours but drops drastically in the evening. This is because most people who are downtown are only there for their jobs. Incidentally, an increase in tax would require too much effort to collect and would dispel its advantages. I'm sure they have run the numbers on this strategy but I'm thinking a better way to go about lowering the cost of transportation is to help businesses transition to a model that

  • allows remote working (usage of Skype/IRC/Yammer/Basecamp/JIRA/Confluence to communicate) -- this will allow employees with a growing family to take care of their kids while working
  • provides biking/walking incentives (if you have a bike and you bike to work, provide showers, enviromentally-focused employee awards, etc)
  • redistributes startups/divisions across the lower mainland (Surrey, Port Coquitlam, Burnaby, Cloverdale) instead of staying in downtown core
The problems with Skytrain aren't the cleanliness issues, the crime, or the ridiculous cost per month -- it's the reliability and scalability of the system as a whole. During the mornings, if there's a problem and people are late coming to work by a specific amount of time -- that's a cost that businesses are swallowing every morning. One can easily say, "just go to work earlier" -- waking up at 5am and leaving for work at 6am sounds like a logical plan but practice that for several months -- you'll find that on average an employee will be in "work mode" for 11+ hours (3 hours transit and 8 hours of work). I don't think any person with a growing family will find this sustainable.

Zooming out, that 0.5% tax increase is nothing compared to how many businesses are literally losing money from the Skytrain being delayed for several minutes across multiple stations. In my mind, the Skytrain is an intermediate service that should be used in order to transition to a new, more cost efficient way of living -- a more sustainable, environmentally-focused way of "going to work".

In order to help companies adopt these initiatives, a program much like SRED but for "environmentally-focused / healthy living companies" would need to emerge. If a company was to allow remote working (tracked by hours and results), provide biking/walking incentives, and create sub-offices/shared offices in other cities (branching), they would receive a tax credit. The problem I am trying to solve in my thinking is, how can we make Vancouver a city with healthier, happier employees?

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