What Amazon HQ2 RFP Reveals about Transit Importance for Business

Evidence is growing that commuters and businesses alike are recognizing the value of locating near transit routes—particularly high frequency transit routes such as rail, light rail, and rapid bus lines.

In their recently unveiled RFP for a new secondary North American headquarters—dubbed ‘HQ2,’—online retail giant Amazon lays out the following requirement for cities hoping to place a bid for the project, which will bring to the successful city thousands of high-paying tech jobs: direct access to mass transit at the site.

It has been documented for some time that the young adult population increasingly seeks to centralize in urban areas, which are characterized by their proximity to transit, higher-density housing, and plentiful amenities relative to suburban areas. As population growth in urban areas has outpaced that of suburban communities, transit ridership has also risen. In Metro Vancouver for example, transit ridership has increased by 57 per cent over the past decade. Meanwhile, ICBC data indicate a 15 per cent decline in the number of 20 to 24-year-olds holding a drivers licence between 2004 and 2014, and a 10 per cent drop in the number of 25 to 29-year-olds with a drivers licence over this same period.

Businesses like Amazon, which are keen to attract the best and brightest tech workers, know that these workers are less and less likely to drive to work. This means, quite simply, that workers demand transit access at their workplace just as they increasingly desire it at their front door. Thus with the high mobility rates of young adults, tech workers, just as other young professionals, are selecting cities in which to live based not only on job availability and salary, but on other factors that have long escaped slow-moving city councils in second-tier cities: excellent public transit, unique cultural amenities, and recreational opportunities.

Geographer and urban planner Markus Moos of the University of Waterloo details this phenomenon in his project ‘Generationed City,’ which compares the proportion of young adults in cities. Not surprisingly, cities that score higher in the transit, culture, and recreation categories are generally those with more young adults, and hence, tech jobs.

Take Seattle, for instance: sandwiched between the Cascade Mountains and Puget Sound, and with relatively good transit networks, Seattle is a millennial mecca. It’s no surprise that some of America’s largest tech companies are headquartered in the city. Amazon, of course, was founded in Seattle. The company’s existing headquarters is located south of Lake Union near the intersection of two light rail lines and is within walking distance of the downtown core, as well as trendy neighbourhoods that many of its employees call home. Compare this to Apple, whose new Cupertino headquarters became infamous amongst urban planners after it was revealed that the sprawling office park boasts more parking space than office space. This seems antithetical to the very nature of the tech sector and its workers. Amazon’s signal through its RFP that good transit matters to businesses and their workers is a sign that such developments may soon become a thing of the past.

Could pressure from businesses like Amazon be enough to push municipalities eager for tech jobs to invest in rapid transit? Time will tell. However, unsuccessful bid cities will be wise to pay close attention to their ability to provide direct access to rail, train, subway, and bus routes in the future. Early investment in these critical pieces of infrastructure could bring Amazon HQ3 to their door.


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