Frequently asked questions
YES, anyone who is doing a standardized job and is working for an employer that has multiple worksites would be a candidate for the closercommutes tactic. For example, an elementary school teacher who has a long commute to work in another district could do a transfer/exchange with a similarly qualified teacher working at a nearly elementary school so both will have a shorter commute. StatsCan data reveals that across the Mission-Abbotsford & Vancouver census metropolitan areas, over 17,500 teaching professionals are not working within their own area of residence. That’s a huge amount of long commuting we can reduce, at no cost to School Districts. Certainly their students will appreciate healthier, better-rested, less-stressed teachers!
Since 2007, the BC Teachers’ Federation has been urging a program of “green lateral exchange/transfers” across district boundaries, so there is no animosity to overcome on this improvement for teachers.
You can help by emailing the Premier and Education Minister Rob Fleming to get started on this right away.
We have good news! We expect health authorities to enthusiastically implement this commute-reducing strategy. Research clearly shows people with closer commutes have less absenteeism, less tardiness, fewer accidents at work, are less prone to depression, obesity and diabetes, are more active and productive, etc., etc. People with long commutes tend to not stay in the job as long – “retention” is a major problem for hospitals and health authorities. It is a major expense to recruit and train new employees, whether they are nurses, nursing assistants, doctors, health records staff, you name it.
Ask your HR department when they will start working across all health locations to reduce commuting to have healthier, happier, more productive staff while reducing costs.
YES, anyone working for a medium or large employer could expect their employer to soon be examining tactics for improving commutes. One way will be to encourage and help arrange swaps. It is in the employer’s best interest. Having employees work closer to home will reduce HR costs and boost productivity – plus it helps the community, local economy and the environment.
Starbucks is one of the few companies in the world that actively encourages shorter staff commutes – it is clearly good for business!
Recently we analyzed the commutes of all employees of the Royal Bank across southern Vancouver Island. We discovered that, for over half the employees, there was someone they could switch locations with right now so both would have a closer commute. The bank had never thought of checking on this. The need and potential to improve is everywhere across the economy.
The concept of people switching work locations is likely centuries old. But, despite all the benefits, strangely it is not part of large employers’ standard practices – yet!
In the mid-1990s, a management consultant named Gene Mullins convinced Key Bank to implement what he called “proximate commuting” at 17 Seattle-area bank branches. Within 15 months, these branches had reduced their total employee commuting miles traveled by a whopping 17%. Over the same period the “control” group of branches that hadn’t participated had a small increase in their total employee commuting miles.
Back then it was expensive (and inaccurate) to calculate commute distances and durations. This is likely part of the reason that Mullins’ program didn’t catch on – except with Starbucks and Boeing who could afford the expensive consulting fees. Now we can access Google Maps data for fractions of a penny to get precise data on thousands of scenarios in an instant. Also a toolkit of explainer videos, how-to manuals and customizable apps/spreadsheets is being finalized for distribution to BC employers.
A challenge we are working to overcome: it has not been clear to employers or government who should be responsible for employee commutes, so opportunities have been missed. We have built a solid, well-researched business case explaining why employers will actually save money by doing the right thing.
The next step is to insist the Premier and his Ministers get the ball rolling on as quickly as possible. Please spread the word.
Great question! Our search of the literature did not yield any consensus about a definition for “short (or close) commute” nor for “long commute.” We created our own definition of a “close commute” based on Statistics Canada’s national household survey’s classifications for mode of transportation and its 10-minute duration intervals. The duration is door-to-door, so a commute using public transit for 20 minutes includes walking to the bus stop and walking from bus to your workplace. Our definition of a “close commute” is as follows, for each direction:
- if driving a car, truck or van, or if riding a bicycle, ten minutes or less
- if taking public transit or walking, 20 minutes or less
Responsibility for a commute-reducing initiative was not obvious – until University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre researchers recently identified the Climate Change Accountability Act as the logical legislation. That Act is administered by the Climate Change Secretariat. We expect the Premier and Minister of Environment & Climate Change Strategy can get the ball rolling by having Cabinet declare two regulations under this Act, and then instructing all other parts of the government to help out.
Analysts confidently predict that fewer vehicles and less traffic congestion will boost the regional economy by hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Thanks to Laurie Mitchell, HR specialist with the City of Victoria, for asking that important question. No doubt all HR professionals will want to be informed about that matter.
Firstly, I must emphasize that I am not a lawyer and am not offering legal advice. Please consult with your organization’s lawyer who will provide advice on your organization’s specific circumstances.
There is no mention of employee’s place of residence in the Employment Standards Act of BC. Proximity to workplace is not one of the 11 types of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act (http://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/what-discrimination). My consultations last year with two lawyers and several sessions of Internet searching did not uncover any case law or statutes in Canada or the USA that indicate legal concerns. Proximate commuting, upon which CloseCommute’s methodology is based, has been endorsed and promoted by the US EPA and DoT for over twenty years, with no mention I could find of legal liability. Nonetheless, do consult with your organization’s lawyer to confirm your situation.
Although there appears to be no legislation or regulations about considering area of residence when hiring or transferring, there could well be relevant POLICY in place related to this. Typically policy is created by an organization and can be updated or modified by the organization. I submitted a FOI request to the BC Government’s Public Service Agency, asking whether there were any policies in existence across government related to the consideration of commuting distance or otherwise considering residence location. The official response was, “Although a thorough search was conducted, no records were located in response to your request.”
Secondly, the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre recently (September 2020) released a research report about commute trip reduction. That report was supervised and reviewed by top lawyers. It generally concludes that there should be no problem with either privacy laws (federal and BC) or the mobility section of the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms. The report does strongly urge that employers do not discriminate at time of hire based on candidates’ place of residence, because there can be many social and economic factors that determine a person’s choice of where to live.
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