City workers in Palo Alto may soon have a fresh incentive to ditch their cars in favor of mass transit -- free Caltrain passes.
The City Council is scheduled to consider on Monday night a staff proposal to participate in a Caltrain Go Pass program, which will allow employees to trade in their parking permits for Caltrain tickets. The nine-month pilot program is part of a broad range of traffic-reducing initiatives on the council's agenda. The list also includes the creation of a "Transportation Management Authority," a nonprofit that would assess fees from downtown businesses and develop incentives for car-free commuting; and expanded shuttle program and a car-share services at local parking lots.
Under the staff proposal outlined in a report Wednesday, employees who participate in the program would also be allotted two "emergency parking permits" per month. These permits would allow workers to park at the Cowper Street garage. Additional permits could then purchased for $10.
The program is expected to cost the city $63,691, according to the staff report. At the same time, staff expects to make about $27,800 in annual revenues from selling the parking permits that were previously provided to employees. The revenues would bring down the program's cost to $35,892, the report states.
If the council approves the staff proposal, Palo Alto would join 22 local companies that currently buy Caltrain passes in bulk and distribute them to their employees, along with Stanford University and Stanford University Medical Center. According to city planners, the university's transit ridership among employees has increased from 8 percent to 28 percent since its participation in the Go Pass Program began.
Now, with parking and traffic issues dominating agendas and land-use planning (which includes parking and traffic) identified as one of the council's top priorities for the second straight year, the city hopes to achieve a similar ridership bump. The program's eligibility would be limited to the 466 employees who work at Civic Center. Currently, about 50 of them currently rely on Caltrain for some portion of their commutes, according to staff.
"For Civic Center employees (City Hall, Police Department, Development Center and Downtown Library) who live within a mile of Caltrain stations, the Go Pass Program could provide a viable alternative to solo driving," the report states.
Staff had initially suggested a broader Go Pass program, one that could involve employees at downtown businesses. According to the city, Caltrain staff balked at this proposal, citing "current high Caltrain ridership at University Station and the concern of providing equitable programs with active participating companies."
The terms of the program allow employers to pay a flat rate for Caltrain passes that employees can then use to ride through all zones any day of the week. The cost is $165 per eligible employee. Staff estimates that if 123 employees opted into the program, it would become cost neutral because of permit revenues.
The idea, according to the report, is to shift people away from cars.
"The program demonstrates the City's commitment to a more comprehensive Transportation Demand Management program which will reduce burden on existing parking infrastructure and encourage a cleaner, healthier and more livable Downtown," the staff report states.