Take heart, Expedia employees: the head honchos aren’t giving themselves easier commutes.
The online travel giant’s announcement that it will move its headquarters from Bellevue, Wash., to the Seattle waterfront by 2018 will translate into a more difficult commute for many of Expedia’s employees in the region, approximately 75 percent of whom live on the Eastside, according to data reported by the company.
So what does this mean for Expedia’s top executives? On comment threads and via email, some people in the tech community have been asking that question. Conspiracy theorists speculate that an influential executive’s home in Magnolia or Ballard, a short distance from the new campus, might be quietly driving the decision to relocate.
But GeekWire looked up top Expedia executives’ addresses in King County real estate records, and we can put that conspiracy theory to rest.
As it turns out, several of the company’s highest-ranking executives, including Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, do have homes in Seattle, according to property records. But none of them live near the new campus, at least not yet. And in many situations, their commutes to the new campus would actually be tougher.
Without disclosing their specific locations, these execs are generally situated in the Capitol Hill/Madison Park area, records show. Depending on traffic patterns and time of day, the access to the 520 bridge from those neighborhoods actually translates into an easier and faster commute to Bellevue than to the Seattle waterfront in most cases, according to several online traffic tools, including Google Maps and Bing Maps. In some cases, it’s a wash.
This is the case even though their current homes are geographically closer to the new headquarters.
For example, according to Google Maps estimates, one Expedia executive who lives in Seattle will be trading a commute to Bellevue that ranges from 14-22 minutes, depending on traffic, for a commute to the new Seattle headquarters that ranges from 18-30 minutes.
The situation shows how difficult and time-consuming it can be to get across Seattle on surface streets — which also illustrates the extra challenge that many Expedia employees will face if they’re coming from the Eastside.
In addition to those Seattle-based executives, real estate records indicate that another high-ranking vice president at the company will feel the pain of the Seattle relocation even more, giving up the ability to walk to the existing Expedia headquarters in Bellevue.
“We have an extensive commute modeling system that we used to evaluate a number of potential headquarters location options,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. The company says it took into account the overall implications for employees, but executive commute times received no special consideration.
It’s no surprise that this issue is coming up. Commute times and Seattle’s transportation infrastructure are critical issues as tech companies expand in the city. Tech giants such Facebook and Amazon are also growing rapidly, along with many startups, contributing to traffic bottlenecks across the city.
Expedia’s move will add to the challenge in a unique way, given its new waterfront location. The company will be shifting its regional employee base of 3,000 people from Bellevue to Seattle, along with plans to add another 1,500 employees over the next couple of years.
Transportation is “one of the top priorities for us,” Expedia CEO Khosrowshahi said during the news conference announcing the move.
“We’re going to be working with our employees,” Khosrowshahi said. “It’s a young employee base, very eco-friendly, so we’re going to create many, many incentives to use public transport as much as possible. But we’re aware that their commute, some of our employees’ commute, is going to get longer. We want to make sure that we don’t cause traffic congestion, etc.”
“We’ve got a couple of years to put those plans together, but believe me, we’re dedicated to making it good for the employees and also good for the city,” he said.
Khosrowshahi said Expedia was attracted to the picturesque location by the ability to own its own campus, and shape its culture. The company informed employees about the move on Thursday morning, shortly before announcing it publicly.
People are excited about “the benefit of having this unbelievable headquarters,” Khosrowshahi said. “It’s iconic, it’s absolutely beautiful.” At the same time, he acknowledged that there are “a lot of questions” from employees about the implications of the move.
Expedia is purchasing the property from Amgen for nearly $229 million to turn into its new headquarters. The company will need to make extensive renovations to transition the property from research-and-development to office space.
It’s a very different environment from downtown Bellevue, where the current Expedia headquarters registers a WalkScore of 92 — a “walker’s paradise” — based on all the nearby amenities. The new site on the Seattle waterfront scores just a 45 by comparison, although that could improve somewhat with new development and transit options before Expedia moves into the campus in 2018.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Expedia will offer employees a 100 percent subsidy of ORCA public transit passes; financial incentives for walking, busing, biking and carpooling; and shuttle services for getting to work. In addition, the company will cap the number of parking spaces at its new Seattle headquarters, the mayor said. There are currently 1,100 spaces available on the property, which has its own parking garage.
Murray also pointed to public transit improvements planned for the Elliott Avenue/15th Avenue corridor, which runs past the former Amgen waterfront property.
Khosrowshahi said during yesterday’s news conference that the average commute time for Expedia employees will increase by 5 to 6 minutes after the company moves from Bellevue to Seattle in 2018, according to studies conducted by the company. With 75 percent of the company’s 3,000 employees in the region living on the Eastside, the statement is being met with skepticism.
However, Expedia maintains that the figure is accurate, taking into account the complexity of the region’s transportation infrastructure. For example, an employee commuting from the south, such as a home in Auburn or Tacoma, will be able to take advantage of different public transportation options to reduce their commute times compared to their current situation, even though they may be geographically farther away from the new headquarters.