Commuters in San Francisco lost on average 116 hours — almost five full days — to traffic congestion last year, according to the research firm Inrix. In Los Angeles it was 128 hours. On some days, of course, a single commute can feel like five days.
Blade, a startup based in New York, saw the commuting nightmare as a business opportunity. Earlier this year, the company started daily helicopter flights across the Bay. For $195 you can hop from Oakland to Palo Alto.
While the idea of spending that much on an eight-minute flight will be absurd to many people, it says something about traffic congestion in and around San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
Oakland to Palo Alto is the company’s most popular route in the Bay Area, according to Will Heyburn, the head of corporate development at Blade. At around 15 miles, it’s also the shortest of the company’s regular routes in the United States.
In other words, some people are willing to pay almost $200 to avoid a single bridge.
“These people are buying an extra 2 1/2 hours at home,” said Heyburn, who declined to say how many people have used the service since it began in March.
The helicopter seats six passengers.
Helicopters will not solve California’s traffic woes, though. Most Californians will continue to sit in cars while their knuckles get sore from clenching the steering wheel.
What passes for good news in this domain is that traffic congestion seems to have plateaued in the Bay Area, according to John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Traffic through the Bay Bridge toll plaza was down less than 1% during the first nine months of the current fiscal year, Goodwin said.
As someone who’s been in the job nearly two decades, Goodwin says he is confident he knows what might ease congestion in the short term: a recession.
“Bad time to be looking for work, good time to be driving to work,” he said.