Saturday, July 19, 2014

Employee Parking

I lived in Japan from 1995 to 2003 and was spoiled for transit.  For the majority of my stay, in Kyoto, I had the option of three train lines to go to work, one of which so close to my apartment that I could slip on my shoes as the signal at the nearby level crossing sounded, take the two flights of stairs to the street and board the train at my station as it pulled up.  The other two lines were run by Hankyu, a large conglomerate that directed its traffic to its flagship department store and real estate developments in downtown Osaka and Japan Rail, the national railroad that links the entire country together and is responsible for developing and operating the shinkansen (bullet train).

The experience there comes to mind not so much because of the convenience of rail in the neighbourhood where I lived but for one contract negotiation I had with an employer there.  It is common practice for employers to pay for their staff's rail pass to commute to work.  I had even seen salarymen who had passes that allowed them to take pretty substantial daily trips via the shinkansen from home well outside the Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto metropolitan area.  Clearly this is a pretty expensive commitment on the part of employers and of course it helps subsidize rail service as well.  At the risk of digressing before getting to the account of my negotiation there was one Japanese colleague I had worked with who was looking to sell his car after owning if for about 10 years and disclosed that it only had 40,000 km on it.

For the negotiation in question I was offered a rather disappointing raise despite my length of service and the strong evaluations I had received.  I decided to make the case that I was cheaper than a new teacher because of the low cost the school paid for my commuting, which was 310 Yen one-way compared to the 980 Yen they would pay for a fresh-off-the-plane, prone-to-taking-the-train-west- instead-of-east, completely inexperienced teacher with a dodgy command of the fundamentals of English grammar.  Given my job performance and the difference in transportation costs, I tried to make the case that it would be more cost effective to keep me with the salary I was requesting than it would cost to replace me.  If they could pay me the savings they were making on transportation then I would stay.  They chose not to and saw that fresh-faced replacement last about 3 weeks.

The interesting thing that transfers to the Canadian context is that employees rarely have as transparent and accounting of what their employers are paying for their "free" parking (if and when it is provided). There are few organizations that provide incentives for employees to use transit or to walk for the sake of sparing the organization the cost of providing a parking lot.  Whether it is an expanded footprint to provide surface parking on site or the cost of building, maintaining and enforcing underground parking on site the costs are rarely integrated into the consideration of the compensation packages unless they are motivated by a shortage of parking and want to entice employees to use transit to forego any tensions over on-site parking for an organization that is starting to grow beyond the space that it has for its staff.

In Calgary, a monthly transit pass is $90 a month and there are few if any places in downtown Calgary where a "free" parking place that an employer provides its staff could be built, maintained and operated for that monthly rate.  It may be worthwhile for more employers to open up this aspect of its compensation to staff and look at strategies to make more feasible use of that space.  While there are annual weeks that are dedicated to improving use of transit or bicycles or other forms of commuting to work, it may be worthwhile to look at ways to incentivize transit use or walking to work (if there is a formula to value that).  Perhaps the simple benefit of paying for a transit pass would be sufficient.  That would impact overhead that an employer takes on for providing parking and perhaps even create an alternative revenue stream by renting the surplus parking out rather than retaining it at a loss and skewing the cost of parking and the compensation that is provided to your employees by not fully accounting for those costs.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Walking Habit

I must confess that it has been an inordinately long time since I've added anything here.  There was a period when I thought other people were covering this topic better than I was from post-to-post and that the walkability of Calgary neighbourhoods was something that I may have been a repetitive voice on.

At the risk of being a repetitive voice I'm going to resume in earnest because there are so many thing that connect to the topic of walking rather than just the appeal or walkability of our city and its neighbourhoods.

At this point I'm going to reflect on why I'm the walker that I am because it is something that puzzles me as much as anyone else, unless it is simply a matter of being that stingy.  I have purchased a car since I last posted anything here, a red hybrid that was purchased for the purpose of ferrying our newborn around and something I occasionally refer to as my mid-life crisis car, it being red and all.

Despite the purchase I will still insist on using transit or foot to go to or from some of the destinations I go with my son.  On Saturdays I often walk the sleeping lad home some 8 kilometres after a constitutional pizza lunch with friends.  It exposes me regularly to some of the drearier and more poorly equipped stretches of the city but I also get a chance to stroll through Mission, downtown and Kensington as I return to home as well and let my son take in some of the sights as we roll through the city.

The long walks go back to my teens, however.  I grew up in the greater Halifax area and from ages 10-15, I lived in a suburb or subdivision outside of Dartmouth and every once in a while I would head to the nearest library, if the bus wasn't on schedule, I would never bother to wait for it and just head off on foot.  It was about a 5K walk one way and the uphill return trip was somewhat daunting but it never phased me.  The only year I had to take the bus to school during that time was in Grade 6 and the walks to school (what a novel concept) were never particularly long either.

The walk was a chance to leverage some adolescent independence and have a bit time to my introverted self.  The impulse to get on the bus and go further, to a mall for one, never appealed to me as often.  At a time that predated the walkman there was nothing to entertain me along the way other than my thoughts or the movement of traffic around me.  I still don't know what it was that compelled me to walk as much as I did other than that small dollop of independence.

To this day it remains.  Other than the walks with my son that fill many of my Saturdays, it is remarkable to say that walked to and from work for near 6 of the last 9 years and when pushed I've resorted to transit rather than commuting in my own car.

Going back to those walks alongside a 4-lane highway to get to the library, there has been little that has deterred me from heading somewhere on foot.  Walking along MacLeod Trail has never been appealing or discouraging for that matter, but I have done it - often to the surprise of the drivers who seem to find a pedestrian out of place.  With my walks to work on 14 Avenue SW there is probably a similar emphasis on the vehicle over the pedestrian but there are more kindred spirits walking on that route.

The benefits are numerous, from the simple movement of my feet and chance to burn calories (or in my case eat that many more without ballooning) to the state of mind that a good walk instills at the start of the day.  For me it probably staves off a restlessness that would not be slaked by sitting in a car for a commute to work.

More thoughts to follow.  Promise.