The RABO project entails the implementation of several neighborhood-based telecenters, whose operations were monitored through regular reports. Effectiveness as a transportation demand strategy was evaluated using surveys, travel diaries, attendance logs and exit interviews. The employee and employer experiences with telecenters were also studied to assess the overall impact of the centers as work environments. Models of preference and choice for telecommuting are being developed to explore market segmentation questions. These studies are documented in other reports available through this project.
Funding for all centers implemented by the RABO program terminated June 1996. Those discussed below remain open with a mix of public funding and user fees and plan to continue operating while increasing their funding base with other revenue-generating services and by networking with related projects such as the Smart Communities project currently in the planning stages.
Chula Vista, the second largest city in San Diego County, is a community with 155,450 residents. It is home to one of the nation’s largest new town projects, a 34-square mile area that will contain an estimated 24,000 dwelling units at completion. Overall, Chula Vista’s population is expected to grow by 40 percent in the next quarter century; this surge in population is, however, served by an increasingly inadequate public transportation infrastructure.
The City of Chula Vista’s telecenter project was conceived in 1993 by the City’s Environmental Resource Division as one approach to addressing these traffic and air quality issues. Originally, the city developed and operated two telecenters: the Downtown Telecenter, and the Eastern Telecenter. During the period of time that both centers were operating, the telecenter director reports that the two telecenters together saved a calculated 1,554 vehicle miles per month. However, due to funding constraints, the Downtown center was closed April 1, 1997. The city continues to operate the Eastern Telecenter and plans to merge it with the city library as part of the state-sponsored Smart Communities effort, which is intended to establish city-wide, on-line community service networks to residents. The center would thereby provide public access to computers and the Internet to enhance delivery of services in government, leisure, business, education, and health care.
While the city operates and administers the telecenters project, it has received funding though a variety of sources for both centers. These include Caltrans, the Institute of Transportation Studies-UC Davis, the California Energy Commission via the San Diego Association of Governments, the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District and the Department of Energy via Public Technology, Inc.-Urban Consortium Energy Taskforce. Panasonic donated a videoconferencing system and Cox Communications contributed $50,000 to provide the telecenters with computers and other high-tech equipment. All these sources combined gave the telecenters $691,000 in public and private funds.
In keeping with the city’s fundamental objectives of pollution reduction and environmental health, construction of both centers emphasized the use of “green design” materials in their interior fabrication. These included carpeting manufactured of 100 percent recycled bottle caps and partition fabric manufactured from recycled milk bottles; the paint and adhesives were non-toxic with low volatile organic compound content, and the ceiling tiles were designed to reduce “sick building syndrome”. Both centers used power-conserving computers, laser printers, and copiers, and had a energy-efficient design emphasizing natural lighting through skylights and superior artificial lighting.
Historically, recruitment for the Chula Vista telecenters has been targeted towards residents of the surrounding communities. Promotional activities have taken the form of mailings, telemarketing, billing inserts, open houses, and press releases. Promotional pieces have also been disseminated to employers through the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Ridelink program (see introduction), as well as directly. Community-based outreach was emphasized because, in the experience of the developer, employees will often work to overcome employer resistance and can help champion a telecommuting program internally. The director has found that a combination of employer- and employee-based marketing is most effective. Based on that, recent efforts have focused on an aggressive employer-based marketing campaign in addition to the community outreach; while the immediate results have not been highly successful, it is hoped that many new relationships will eventually grow out of this effort.
The developer plans to form partnerships with both public and private agencies that will allow alternative uses to promote trip reduction and profitability. To that end, long-term business strategies are being developed which include distance learning, telemedicine, and international trade communications. The latter is being considered as a videoconference application because of Chula Vista’s proximity to the Mexican border. The target market for this particular service is businesses which have facilities on both sides of the border. The Mexican telephone company has been planning to make videoconferencing systems available on the Mexican side for this very purpose with the ultimate goal of reducing cross-border traffic.
Distance learning has been one of the most successful of the alternate uses explored by the center directors. Partnerships with the University of Phoenix and National University have resulted in classes being conducted at the centers via videoconferencing; San Diego State University plans to follow suit this year. In the case of the University of Phoenix, the telecenter director reports that students taking classes at the center would generate an additional 4,080 miles per month if they had to travel to the University’s regional campus, although it is likely that for many students using the center, the alternative would be not to take the class at all. To accommodate National University and San Diego State University classes, a larger monitor for the videoconference system was purchased.
Other successful revenue-generating services include on-site computer classes. The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) provided Internet connections through a project funded by the California Space Institute and sold-out training classes have been provided by The Internet Connection. Panasonic donated new codec cards and multipoint capability for the videoconference system, resulting in greater connectivity and enhanced video/audio quality. The telecenter also offers rental use of the videoconference equipment.
Chula Vista is hoping to be able to provide telemedicine services. To help realize this goal, Cox Communications is providing a free fiber connection to the UCSD medical center, although the developer is still looking for a sponsor to help fund the telemedicine program. The program would allow users to access medical information via CD ROM before seeing a physician; the program could be further expanded to include a nurse to answer questions through either audio- or videoconferencing.
The Eastern center is staffed by the Telecenter Director, who conducts general marketing and oversees operations. The Telecenter Technology Director position, which was the main staff position for the Downtown center, was eliminated earlier this year due to budget cuts. This position was responsible for developing the videoconferencing and revenue-generating services of both centers, for forming technical partnerships with different organizations, and for the operations of the Downtown telecenter. The City of Chula Vista’s Environmental Resource Manager oversees the city’s telecenter project, and is responsible for initiating the project and for development and implementation of the two telecenters. Accounting services are provided by the city’s finance department; the city also provides technical support for the center’s computer systems and custodial services.
The grand opening of the Eastern Telecenter took place August 1994. It is located in a small commercial development bordered on all sides by extensive residential neighborhoods. The local community college is across the street from the center, providing a wide range of educational activities, and most amenities are close by, including child care, banks, a grocery store, restaurants, health clubs, cleaners, fast food, auto repair shops and a drug store.
The center itself contains 1,500 square feet housing ten workstations, one conference room, a kitchen/lounge area, and a reception area staffed by the telecenter director. Seven workstations are equipped with personal computers with 19,200 kbps internal modems and one workstation is equipped with a Macintosh; the remaining workstations have docking stations for laptops. Peripheral equipment includes a facsimile machine, a Xerox 5320ZTAS copier, a laser printer, and phones with a digital message system. The workstation personal computers are equipped with MS Office Professional, Windows, WordPerfect and other assorted software. For security reasons, the personal computers are not networked. Users have a designated workstation accessed through a security code. Users can install their own software; however, no user files may be kept on the hard drive. The telecenter is equipped with a security access system to allow entry 24 hours a day.
Long range plans for operations include introducing desktop videoconferencing via personal computer. Implementation of an electric vehicle shuttle service, which had been planned as a means to achieve zero emissions travel to and from the telecenter for the users, was suspended following unsuccessful negotiations with the vendor.
This site was developed and operates under the direction of the Western Nevada County Transportation Management Association. Opened in February 1994, the original facility was located in the basement of the Pacific Gas and Electric Building in downtown Grass Valley, in the Sierra foothills. It had 1,494 square feet containing three cubicle workstations, one private secured office with a workstation, and one private office with two workstations. In July 1995, the telecenter was moved to a larger facility at 640 East Main Street. The new facility is situated between the downtown section and a residential area in Grass Valley and offers approximately twice as much space (just under 3,000 square feet) as the original location. The center now has six cubicle workstations for regular use and an additional four workstations for drop-in use, as well as a conference/videoconference room, and a breakroom/lounge with a refrigerator.
Funding for the center is provided by the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District, with additional support from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which provided the space for the original facility at a reduced rate, and Waste Management, Inc., which owns the building housing the current center and leases it at substantially less than the market rate. Pacific Bell also provided support in the form of donated office and workstation furniture.
Workstation equipment consists of six IBM 486 personal computers, each supported by 28.8 fax/modems and each with a dot matrix printer. The four workstations reserved for drop-in use are also equipped with personal computers and a phone. There is also a shared laser printer and an AT&T Vistium desktop videoconference unit. The Vistium equipment uses the industry’s standard language, making it compatible with videoconference equipment from the other major manufacturers. A local-area network was installed in September of 1995 with the assistance of Techtronix, Inc., which provided cabling and the labor to install the network; and in late 1996, Nevada County Community Network (NCCN) provided Internet access and the high-speed connection lines for data transfer. The site administrator has use of a 486 DX.
The center is staffed by one full-time site administrator, who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the center, and by the director, who has responsibility for marketing and general oversight of the center. Accounting support is provided by the Western Nevada County TMA.
Because of its downtown location, amenities such as restaurants, banks, shopping, dry cleaners and postal services are proximate to the center. There is 24 hour access to the center and inside bicycle storage and showers.
Marketing strategies have been and continue to be primarily directed at recruiting employees through community outreach. Specific efforts in this area include hosting open houses; conducting direct mailings; radio and cable television promotion; and working with realtors, who use the telecenter as a selling point for potential home buyers. The site administrator also contacts employers directly and works with key persons in each company to promote telecommuting and enable employees in the Grass Valley area to use the telecenter. Additionally, the site administrator has found word-of-mouth to be a very effective source for recruitment. Because the TMA is very active in the local business community’s activities, this center receives the general support and recognition of regional employers, which has resulted in increased drop-in use.
The center director is also positioning the center as an adjunct facility for regional economic development. This movement is taking two forms: one, as a community service resource center in conjunction with the local Social Services and Economic Development Departments and the Nevada County Business Association; and two, as a means to attract investment into the region through the center’s affiliation with the Nevada County Community Network. The first is part of the local Economic Development Department’s programmatic response to providing opportunity to the economically disadvantaged, and involves conducting on-site job training for the unemployed with additional support from the private sector. Through this plan, local firms would “sponsor” a cubicle, providing either computer equipment or a cash donation to equip the cubicle. The equipment would then be used exclusively for training and distance learning activities for unemployed and/or welfare recipients. The second economic development positioning is a direct outcome of the center’s partnership with the NCCN. The NCCN not only acts as the local Internet provider, but is also acting in cooperation with regional businesses and local government agencies to bring government and business services on-line. The TeleBusiness Center can act as a point of access for these on-line services.
The Grass Valley TeleBusiness Center currently charges $12 a day or $200 a month for traditional telecommuters or TMA members to rent a cubicle. These users are also given free access to the conference room and videoconferencing (plus toll charges). Drop-in users pay $5 an hour or $20 a day for use of workstations, $10 an hour for the conference room and $50 an hour for videoconferencing. Drop-in users also pay higher rates for faxes and copies. There are currently six regular users who use the facility on average about eleven person days per week. These users are employed in state government positions, in software sales, and in legal publishing.
The TeleBusiness Center in San Juan Capistrano is the newest member of the RABO project. It originally opened in March 1995 and is located just off Interstate 5 and the Ortega Highway, in the “Villages” section of the Ortega Business Center. It is located conveniently near the downtown Amtrak/Metrolink station as well as a bus stop and a city bike path. The Ortega Business Center offers a variety of services, including a FedEx pickup office, restaurants, a convenience store, day care, a fitness center, laundry and dry cleaning, computer sales and service, professional offices, a bakery, and a florist.
The center has expanded to a total of thirteen workstations: seven private offices, two cubicle-type workstations, and four open-area workstations, which are nested in the corners of a separate work area at the back of the center. In the experience of the site developer, users prefer the privacy of enclosed offices; thus the physical configuration of this center is evolving to provide more private offices and fewer cubicle or open-area workstations. Currently, all seven of the private offices are leased. All workstations are equipped with 486 IBM-type personal computers loaded with Microsoft Office, and both the cubicle workstations are equipped with desk-top videoconferencing capability. The center also offers a videoconference room which can be used as an individual workstation; this room contains a room-sized videoconference screen plus another computer at the opposite end of the room. There is also a training center, which is a conference room/classroom, a break area with microwave and refrigerator, and a reception area with an on-site administrator. In all, there are fifteen computers, 1 scanner, 1 laser printer and 2 ink jet printers, 1 Minolta 5400 photocopier which can produce 50 copies per minute, 2 fax machines, and phone-line access to the Internet. The developer also offers computer classes and will do custom design work for clients’ World Wide Web homepages.
The telecenter is run by Pacific Neighborhood Telecenters. Workstations are $7 per hour or $95 for the week. Work space rental for the month is $250 to $600 depending on the type of workstation, projected amount of use, and level of service required by the client; for example, discounts are offered when an employer has multiple users at the facility. Faxes and e-mail are free for tenants. There are presently eleven users with an average of about five telecommuters per day. Current companies employing workers at the center include Teledyne Control Corporation, Homepeace, Inc., Lund Bookkeeping, SFRI Inc., Digital Motion Corporation, Tech Com, Restec, Inc., and Gredvig Engineering. SFRI Inc. is an incubator business; Restec, Inc., has recently relocated to the area.
The developer of the San Juan Capistrano TeleBusiness center pursues active recruitment and promotion strategies which include contacting employers directly and placing advertisements in area newspapers. The developer also works with the Chamber of Commerce to explore options for increasing attendance. In the last year, efforts have included promoting the center in conjunction with a local golf tournament, giving two hours of Internet access free to all the golfers; this generated a strong response. Additionally, the computer training classes offered on-site are also a source of recruitment for new users.
The City of Vacaville opened two centers in July 1994: the Ulatis telecenter and the Three Oaks (formerly Alamo) telecenter. Grand opening ceremonies were held at the end of October 1994 for both. In June of 1995, the City of Vacaville closed its telecenter in the Ulatis Community Center and has since only operated the Three Oaks telecenter, which was expanded from its original 512 square feet to 625 square feet and renamed the Vacaville Telecenter. The Vacaville Telecenter occupies three-fourths of a trailer located adjacent to the Three Oaks Community Center in south Vacaville. Located in a residential area, the center is only a short walk from shopping and dining and is easily accessible from Interstate 80 or bike lanes. There is a public pool at the community center, as well as the Three Oaks Community Park.
Two additional offices in the trailer were secured for telecenter use in 1995. This space has been used to relocate the administrator’s office to the site from its former location two miles away, and to provide an extra office for the program manager when needed. The rest of the telecenter is divided into three rooms: a large central room housing three cubicle workstations, and two adjoining smaller rooms, one with three workstations, and the other with two. All workstations are equipped with desktop computers (two Macintosh Quadra 630s and seven Compaq Prolinea 80486s). There is a separate room in the trailer that, with prior arrangements, can be used as a conference room. All equipment from the Ulatis Telecenter was transferred to the Three Oaks Telecenter. 28.8 modems are being installed to provide Internet connection, and videoconferencing capability is also planned. The telecenter provides coffee, tea and access to a refrigerator and microwave.
Staffing for the center consists of an on-site administrator whose responsibility is to oversee the line staff, which consists of four telecenter assistants who work part-time on a rotating basis overseeing the daily operations of the center. General oversight of the entire program devolves upon the program manager, who is also responsible for all marketing and promotion of the center. The city provided accounting and additional administrative support in the first two years of operation; to reduce dependence on grant funding, these administrative responsibilities were consolidated and assigned to the newly-created position of Telecenter Coordinator. Subsequent turnover left the position unfilled, and the city made the decision to absorb those functions into the Program Manager’s duties.
The Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District provides much of the support for the telecenter through clean air fund grants. The City of Vacaville is also a major contributor, especially through the in-kind contributions of the Telecenter Program Manager. The goal of the Vacaville Telecenter is to become self-sustaining with just user fees. To that end, a fee schedule was initiated in January 1996. When first implemented, the new user fee schedule resulted in a drop in center usage and was consequently adjusted to reflect lower rates. The telecenter director reported that most users were waiting for their employers to develop official telecommuting policies which would provide the employer a mechanism by which to pay the fees, a process which progressed slowly. The center director reported that drop-in users, typically self-employed workers or home-based telecommuters, were willing to pay the usage fees. The current fee schedule is $10 per hour, $25 per day, $75 per week, $200 per month and $25 per month for students. Currently there are seven regular users who work in the facility an average of one day a week each. Many people also use it on an hourly basis, mostly home-based telecommuters who occasionally need more equipment, and students.
The Vacaville Telecenter is conducting an aggressive marketing strategy aimed at the community. Activities include issuing press releases and sponsoring traffic reports on several radio stations as well as other advertising on the local radio station and regional cable television. KUIC-FM, the local radio station, continues to provide no-fee radio spots promoting the telecenter program, an arrangement due in large part to the telecenter’s relationship with the community. This particular marketing tactic benefits not only the Vacaville center, but because KUIC has a broadcast range throughout the I-80 corridor, has resulted in placements for the Grass Valley TeleBusiness Center as well. Other groups and organizations which help publicize the facility include realtors, the community welcome wagon, the Solano County Library, and the Chamber of Commerce. The goal is to increase the occupancy rate and attain self-sufficiency.
Funding by the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District will not be available to the center after December 1997. In order to help offset diminished funding and to achieve the goal of self-sufficiency, the center director is negotiating an agreement with a private firm, Telecommuting Technologies Inc., to set up a call center in the telecenter. The call center will operate during non-regular business hours: that is, during evenings and on weekends, thus avoiding conflicts with normal telecommuting hours.
This is one of two sites established under the direction of the Ventura County Community Colleges District (VCCCD) to facilitate development of district-wide distance learning and integrated administrative videoconferencing programs, as well as to provide community telecenters. Both the Ventura telecenter and the second center, the Moorpark Community College Telecenter, were developed and operated by the respective individual campuses. Due to funding constraints, the Moorpark center closed in July 1996. The Ventura campus site continues to operate.
The Ventura Community College Telecenter is located on the campus with easy access to food service facilities, a bookstore, library resources, postal services, Federal Express services, and UPS service upon request. It has received grants from the Southern California Telecommuting Partnership (SCTP) and from the college’s Economic Development Division.
Ventura College has leased a modular building for this site. Its four cubicle workstations and one private office have personal computers (one 486 PC and four Pentium 166 PCs, all with fax/modems) and phone lines that allow for voice mail service as needed. The center now has Internet access and e-mail accounts for individual users and is also equipped with a conference room, fax machine, copy machine, and videoconferencing facilities.
Both centers received quite a bit of press attention when first opened, and have continued to garner coverage. This publicity, free and unsolicited, was a most effective catalyst for inquiries and recruitment. Marketing activities conducted by site personnel included presentations to county government, city council, various community and professional groups, and at business fairs and technology expositions; direct mailings to local businesses, large regional employers, and the community; hosting open houses with informal presentations about telecommuting; distributing brochures and posting flyers around the campus; surveying the campus student population; and advertising in local and campus newspaper, on radio, and through public service spots.
As part of the overall marketing effort, the site director and administrator, with funding and assistance from the SCTP (see “Terms and Definitions” section), developed a training program which makes use of the center’s dual capacity as an educational institution and as an on-campus telecenter. The objective of the program is to help overcome resistance to telecommuting by providing education and training on telework and telecenters and to assist organizations in developing and implementing telework strategies. Organizations which have agreed to participate identify potential telecommuters through an internal assessment process. The telecommuters and their managers are then provided with free training in one of the college computer labs, followed by a high support period in the center before they actually begin to telecommute. Recruitment and curriculum development began to take place early in 1996, with the first classes being held in April of that year. Initial classes were primarily aimed at county employees, and have had mixed results. While the employees are interested and willing to participate, attendance by managers is much lower. In an effort to generate revenue for the program, the site administrator is currently expanding the program beyond county employees to include private companies, although to date no private companies have taken advantage of the training. As part of this program, a video was produced.
The telecenter currently assesses a monthly charge of $50 times the number of days of the week the telecommuter uses the facility or an hourly charge of $7.50. In addition to the student population which uses the center, there are presently 12 regular telecommuters; on average, the center is used by four of these telecommuters per day. The total number of users per day varies a great deal according to the student calendar.
Staffing for the center consists of a center receptionist, the site administrator, and the telecenter director. Additional administrative, technical and accounting support is provided by Ventura County Community Colleges District.