Facebook's 10-Mile, $10,000 Solution to Workers' Long Commutes

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Facebook has begun offering large cash incentives -- $10,000 and up -- to workers who relocate within 10 miles of its Menlo Park campus. Map depicts the area within Facebook's 10-mile radius.  (Google Maps/Freemaptools.com)

We know all about the legions of tech workers who live in fun, urbane San Francisco and commute to work in Silicon Valley. They've been blamed for driving up rents in the city. And the luxury buses that carry them to and from Google, Apple, Yahoo and other tech campuses have been likened to "spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed" to rule over the locals.

Now, one big Silicon Valley company is trying to get its employees to move closer to work. Facebook is offering payments of $10,000 and up to workers who relocate to within 10 miles of its main campus, just off Highway 84 at the western end of the Dumbarton Bridge.

Reuters reports that the company will also pay employees the extra cash depending on their family status. Single employees would get less than an employee with kids, for example.

Reuters reporter Sarah McBride broke the story, and she notes Facebook's move could help relieve some congestion and traffic, and it could give employees a better work/life balance. But it also threatens residents in nearby communities -- East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Redwood City, for instance -- who find themselves competing for housing with well-paid Facebook workers.

McBride joined me in the studio on Friday, Dec. 18, to talk about the story.

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What incentives are there for Facebook to do this?

If you're a Facebook employee you may be one of the many, many people who are bused down every morning from San Francisco. That used to be not a great commute, but it was OK -- maybe an hour during rush hour. That commute has risen dramatically in the last few years.

You could be wasting three hours a day sitting on the bus. The bus has Wi-Fi and you can work on the bus, but still the bus is a giant time suck. That's not great for Facebook. They prefer people to be sitting in the office.

There's also tension between these tech companies and people in San Francisco who feel that they're driving up housing prices.

Exactly, that tension came to head a couple of years ago. People living in San Francisco remember these bus protests where people threw themselves in front of buses and stopped them from being able to get down to Silicon Valley. That's died down a little bit.

But the buses became the symbol of the resentment that a lot of people feel about the tech community. And people blame tech workers for all kinds of ills. Probably the biggest one is rising rents.

What's the possible impact that this will have on either cities or families within this 10-mile radius?

Despite the fact that there are many new companies and thousands of new jobs, this is causing a bit of a housing crunch. And the people who are hardest hit are the poorest people in Silicon Valley. And they used to be able to live in Redwood City and East Palo Alto, both of which are getting much more expensive than previously.

Did you get a sense that employees felt pressured to make this move? Because at the end of the day, $10,000 doesn't go that far when you're talking about $3,500 rent. 

If you're a young single Facebook employee you probably don't want to live in Silicon Valley. It's pretty boring. There are a lot of strip malls. It's a little bland. San Francisco is much better. So $10,000, for some people with active social lives, that would barely cover their Lyft rides to and from San Francisco in a year.

I spoke to a lot of people who said no way, they don't care how much they're going to get paid, they're going to keep living in San Francisco. So I get the feeling a lot of people who are taking these incentive payments would be living down there anyway.