Proximity is the last thing employers usually consider in hiring and making assignments, and instituting it after the fact is daunting. But [Gene Mullins] designed a "ProximateCommute" software package to automate the process. Workers with overlong commutes are invited to throw their names, addresses and job classifications in the digital hopper (with anonymity protected). The software maps out proximity-friendly transfers and swaps. If employees assent, the program automatically e-mails notices to their managers, who interview would-be transferees and yea or nay any switches. The ProximateCommute package comes with a price tag of $100,000 to $175,000.
After such plaudits, Mullins expected the world to beat a path to his door. Instead, his brainchild butted up against the harsh realities of business and bureaucracy. Key Bank's plans to expand proximate commuting region- or company-wide got lost in a merger shuffle. Other large clients -- including Seattle-based Starbucks and Bank of America's Los Angeles operations -- had Mullins prepare proximate-commute plans, then got distracted by expansions and other priorities. Voter-approved tax cuts and spending caps killed any chance for government subsidies in Washington state.
Not until crises loom, anyway. The Boeing Co., Seattle's largest employer, with facilities scattered throughout the metropolitan area, has long decried the region's failure to confront worsening traffic and congestion. In 2001, it shocked Seattle by moving its headquarters to Chicago, but it left most production workers in its multiple Seattle-area plants, fighting the traffic. After years of pitches and studies by Mullins, Boeing will give his scheme just the sort of large-scale trial supporters have sought: This winter it will offer proximate commuting to between 5,000 and 10,000 non- union employees.
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