When people think about tech hubs, the first things that come to mind are the companies that have set up shop in the area, the regular events hosted there, and how the growing presence of the tech industry has affected the community’s landscape.
But the daily activity that has the most impact on a person’s experiences, health, and happiness is their commute. So if you want to get to know a tech hub better, the best question to ask is:
How would you get to work?
This is precisely what we asked 3 tech workers from 3 different hubs around the world.
It takes at most 40 minutes to get around the city of Singapore. It’s a conservative number when compared to other busy cities in the world, but for some of its citizens, the commute can be challenging in other ways.
Taiwoon Woon is a product designer for Dell. He lives in Punggol, which is roughly 30 minutes away from his office. But for several reasons, his commute actually takes 3 times longer.
First, “There are no bike paths nor direct train route to my office,” says Woon. A combination of driving and cycling are his only options, and in most days he does both.
“I also have a 6 year old daughter who I drop off to child care about 5 km (around 3 miles) from my home and later my wife at the train station.”
From there, rather than going straight to his office parking lot, he drives to a residential area and parks there. Though it sounds like a complicated route, he has his reasons:
“The reason I do not park at my office is that it will cost me at least $12 daily. The parking around the residential area is free and about 2-3 km away. It is a bit too far to walk, but very doable by folding bike. I keep my Brompton in my van and that easily takes me to my office with no sweat.”
It’s more than just about saving money, though. Cycling is also his opportunity to unwind before and after work. This is especially true for Woon because, like many of Singapore’s cyclists, he has learned to use the city’s Park Connector Network (PCN) as a shortcut to get around the city. It was originally designed as a way to connect the country’s national parks, which means that riding through it lends to some beautiful views:
“Cycling a short distance along the PCN is very relaxing for me. Get some fresh air and just chill a bit… before I get trapped in the traffic jam for another hour or more to reach home,” says Woon.
The traffic jams aren’t the only challenge. Woon feels that cycling isn’t promoted enough as a form of transportation in Singapore. Plus, there’s the unpredictable weather:
“In Singapore, we like to joke that there are 2 ‘seasons’. It is either very hot or it rains. Sometimes it really pours and I encounter a very heavy rain.”
And, on those days, Woon has to hail a cab to take him and his bike back to his car.
Bike-friendly Silicon Valley
Judging from Silicon Valley’s transportation options, it’s obvious that it’s built for its native tech companies to run as efficiently as possible. There are now planned commuter flights directly from Burbank, plus, there’s an extensive network of company shuttle buses going around San Francisco.
All of this to make sure that the employees of tech companies get to work on time.
Jessica DeLacy, a Character Technical Director at Dreamworks, is one of these employees. But, other than an optional train ride on the way home, she gets to and from work by riding her bike.
“I ride because it’s fun, it’s great exercise, and you get to have some interesting encounters that you don’t get riding in a car, plus who wants to sit in traffic for 45 minutes when you can be out riding a bike instead?” she said.
Image Credit: Jessica DeLacy
It’s helpful to cyclists like Jessica that Silicon Valley has a solid bicycle infrastructure. Some companies even offer bike sharing programs as an employee perk.
But transportation alone might not be the only benefit of cycling to work. According to Jessica, she feels less stressed out when she rides to work – and it’s noticeable even if she just misses a day of riding. Also, cycling in Silicon Valley is a special experience.
“Commuting in the Silicon Valley is awesome just because of the people that you meet. Often I’ll join up with other cyclists or they’ll join up with me, and we’ll get to know each other during our rides in. I’ve ridden with people from Google, Facebook, Zazzle, Evernote, and so many more.”
It’s not just the techies that Jessica encounters on her commutes:
“I rode in once with a sweet old man who was a bike mechanic for some pretty high end races back in the seventies and eighties.”
There is one incident, however, that she won’t soon forget. It happened one foggy morning:
“I tend to get a bit competitive on my rides, and like to challenge myself, so if I see someone up ahead I try to catch up or pace them. I was riding through the fog and I see someone – and they were booking it. It took everything I had to catch up, and as I got closer I realized that something was different – the bike seemed really tall and had a silhouette I couldn’t quite place. When I got close enough to pass I saw that – get this – this guy was riding a full on racing unicycle. Carbon wheel, full kit with an aero helmet, aero bars and clipless pedals – it was one of the most epic things I’ve ever seen.”
But Jessica also runs into the occasional name-callers and hecklers. Once, she was even told to “get a horse”. Sometimes, she also gets hit by pigeons during her ride.
At the end of the day though, it doesn’t hurt that the scenery is just beautiful:
“The bay views and moderate weather are also a bonus – who wouldn’t want to ride with a view like this?”
Image Credit: Jessica DeLacy
London is notorious from having the longest commuting times in the UK.
But this doesn’t bother Mark McLellan, an IT Consultant who rides a bike to work as an alternative to the city’s available public transportation:
“One of the joys of living in an inner London borough with a good transport infrastructure is that I have lots of choices. Walk all the way (1 hour 10 minutes), walk and one tube (60 minutes), bus all the way (50 minute), walk and one train (40 minutes), two trains (35 minutes), bus and train (30 minutes) or bike (28 minutes).”
Given those options, it’s easy to see why Mark would choose to bike – it’s faster. But there are also other benefits:
“It is quicker to cycle to work than take the train, cheaper than the gym and you are there in the moment – no slug-like dozing on the train but all senses alert for the traffic around you – that wakes you up for the day!”
If Mark opts for one of the trains, sometimes he has to let one or two full trains go past before he gets a chance to squeeze in. He doesn’t face this kind of challenge when cycling:
“The Thames path is a different matter – no crowds here – and the river’s ever changing moods. One day gray with the tide out, another day sunny and the tide is high.”
Plus, he gets the opportunity to encounter local wildlife regularly. He is used to seeing urban foxes, seagulls, cormorants, and assorted ducks and geese. There was even one occasion where he got to “see nature red in tooth and claw right in front of us.”:
“The most unusual event was seeing a raptor (bird of prey) having just swooped and caught a pigeon – to the consternation of the pigeon’s mate.”
Apart from the natural sightings, Mark also has a favorite spot along his route:
“Albert Bridge is my favourite of all the London Bridges and is very lovely at night all lit up like a spider’s web covered in dew catching the sunlight.”
London is also filled with more notable and historical sights. If Mark takes the option to ride the 87 bus from outside his door, he gets to see the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and Downing Street with the Horse guards on sentry duty in full ceremonial uniform. And that’s just to name a few.
“Visitors to the UK spend a lot of money to get here and see these and we get them all for less than two pounds. Result!”
Similar transport, different paths
What we can say for sure is that, for these 3 avid cyclists, the commute is less about the destination and more about the experience of getting there. Because even if Woon, Jessica, and Mark all work in major tech hubs, and they all chose similar modes of transportation, their stories are still very different.
How about you? How do you get to work?