REALLY LONG-RANGE PLANNING

L.A. TRANSPORTATION PLANNER HAS A MEGACOMMUTE-FROM TEMPE

As an associate planner for the City of Los Angeles, Robert Yabes spends his days in front of the computer, masterminding a long-range plan that will allow L.A.'s millions of residents to maneuver the city's overcrowded transit routes.

This Los Angeles municipal employee has devised a rather unusual commute for himself. From Tempe. Yabes, who was born in the Philippines and educated at Cornell University in New York, relocated to the Valley from Southern California in 1990 when his wife was hired as an assistant professor at ASU. (She's also been trained in the planning field.) At the time, he planned to leave the City of Los Angeles and find a job here, but couldn't find suitable employment. Still can't. So what started as a six-month, temporary situation has stretched to nearly three years of commuting. As one would expect from a guy who designs transportation systems for a living, Yabes has turned the act of getting to work into an art form. Each Tuesday he rises at 3 a.m., takes a SuperShuttle from his Tempe home to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and boards a plane to Los Angeles. From LAX he catches another SuperShuttle to work. While in L.A., Yabes either checks out a city car or rides the bus. He leaves work at 6:30 Thursday evening, reversing the Tuesday ritual and returning to Tempe by midevening. "My department thinks it's great," he says. Indeed, Yabes' immediate supervisor, senior city planner Sarah Rodgers, says she was delighted when Yabes devised a way to remain with the city Department of Planning. Most of the people in her department work flexible, ten-hour, four-day weeks, Rodgers says. And about 50 of the planning division's more than 300 employees "telecommunicate" from home part-time. (Because Yabes only spends three days in L.A., he puts in an additional day's work each week from Tempe.)

Yabes is the only one in his department who travels to work from out of state, Rodgers says. But other employees commute 90 minutes one way from nearby communities.

Travel on the Tempe-Los Angeles route doesn't cost much--just $44 each way on Southwest Airlines with a 21-day advance purchase, plus the cost of the SuperShuttle rides. Yabes spends Tuesday and Wednesday nights at his brother-in-law's Los Angeles home, thus saving on rent.

Yabes and his accountant calculate that travel expenses are more than offset by Tempe's relatively low cost of living. Yabes' annual salary is more than $50,000, Rodgers says.

Along with economy, this creative commute has other benefits, Yabes insists. After all, he asks, how many freeway crawlers are served coffee by an accommodating attendant on their morning trek to the workplace? He chuckles, adding that by using a shuttle service, airplanes and buses, he's doing his part to cut down on the air pollution that cars spew on both metropolitan Phoenix and Los Angeles. And Yabes says that the condensed work week allows him to spend more time with his wife and 6-year-old son.

The flip side: Thursday night's dinner usually consists of airline peanuts. Yabes admits with a hearty sigh that the glamour of travel has worn thin--especially on Tuesdays at 3 a.m.

For now, Yabes remains torn between two cities. He and his wife bought a house in Tempe, and he much prefers the Arizona lifestyle to Southern California's high prices, overcrowding--and traffic. Until he can find a job in metropolitan Phoenix, Yabes says he'll continue to commute. "It gets old. Tuesdays are hard. Thursdays are also hard," he says. "I don't recommend it.

 
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