News

Palo Alto plans large expansion for small shuttle program

City Council to consider on Monday staff proposals to add shuttle services; create Transportation Management Authority

Taking a cue from Stanford University and Silicon Valley's high-tech giants, Palo Alto officials are considering a massive expansion of the city's tiny shuttle program in hopes of relieving traffic congestion and freeing up parking spaces downtown.

Under a proposal the City Council is scheduled to consider Monday night, the city's existing shuttle program (which consists of two buses) would be dramatically expanded at a cost of $1.4 million annually. The existing Crosstown Shuttle, which runs between the downtown Caltrain station and East Charleston Road, would see its service tripled so that it would run every 20 minutes rather than every hour. Staff is also proposing an Embarcadero Shuttle that would connect downtown to a potential satellite parking lot across U.S. Highway 101; a West Shuttle that would run between south Palo Alto and Stanford Shopping Center and that would connect senior facilities to California Avenue and the Town & Country Shopping Center; and an East Bay Commuter Shuttle that would only operate during commute hours and would connect downtown Palo Alto to a BART station either in Fremont or another location.

In a report released Wednesday, staff is suggesting that the city solicit proposals from shuttle-service providers "to build an expanded shuttle network, including new routes and more frequent service, with the aim of significantly increasing ridership within three years."

The idea of using shuttles to bring commuters to and from the city is far from new in Palo Alto and neighboring cities, though so far it has been largely the purview of private employers. Stanford's ubiquitous Marguerite shuttles receive much credit for helping the university meet its county requirement to keep car trips from increasing despite gradual expansion. And companies from local car manufacturer Tesla Motors to Menlo Park-based Facebook and Mountain View-based Google rely on shuttles to ferry their employees.

The timeline for Palo Alto's shuttle expansion would be concurrent with another major traffic-reducing initiative that the council will consider on Monday night -- the establishment of a Transportation Management Authority, a nonprofit organization that would collect fees from business districts and use the funds to administer traffic-reducing programs. The program would require seed funding from the city, but would "ultimately seek financial support from large employers and other sources for its ongoing operations." New development projects could be required to participate.

"The TMA's primary responsibilities would be to coordinate and market an expanded City shuttle program, to coordinate and market incentive programs aimed at increasing the use of transit, carpooling and bicycling, and to pursue additional incentives consistent with this mission," the staff report states.

The program could be modeled after existing efforts in Contra Costa, San Francisco's Mission Bay neighborhood and downtown San Mateo. In each case, businesses contribute to an association that sets traffic-reduction goals and funds initiatives that reduce transportation demand.

In the first phase of the plan, staff is proposing to hire a consultant and create a steering committee that would conduct a year of outreach to downtown businesses and residents. The committee will draft a mission statement, identify funding sources, "champion the value of a TMA in the community" and compile data to establish "baselines and current travel behavior," according to the staff report.

During the second phase, the committee and the consultant would create a work plan and a regulatory framework, create partnerships with the community and come up with regulations for new developments. Once established, the Transportation Management Authority would be overseen by a board of directors, with a representative from the city.

In developing the new agency, the city will have to come up with traffic-reduction targets, establish participation criteria for businesses and create "both prescriptive measures and ultimately performance targets for new development projects."

So far, the council has been enthusiastic about the new initiative. In September, council members Greg Scharff, Nancy Shepherd, Gail Price and Liz Kniss penned a memo calling for a more "comprehensive" approach to addressing the city's traffic and parking problems. They suggested that this approach include the creation of downtown districts to manage traffic reduction.

"The idea of considering downtown districts as a unit, with an experienced TDM (transportation demand management) contractor working directly with employers and commuters is a smart, and proven strategy to address the City's traffic and parking issues," the council members wrote in the memo.

The memo, along with years of pressure from downtown neighborhoods with parking shortages, prompted the council to hold a study session in December to consider a citywide "transportation demand management" program. At that time, members heard from experts (including representatives from Google, Stanford and the Contra Costa Centre) and agreed that the city needs to proceed with traffic-reduction measures as soon as possible.

"We have urgency in this city," Liz Kniss said at that meeting. "There's no question. We will have to bite that TDM bullet."

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sounds like progress
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 19, 2014 at 3:11 pm

For the business community, establish a "Transportation Management Authority, a nonprofit organization" and hire a highly paid consultant. And a steering committee. Create a bureaucracy, meetings, lengthy reports, and more. And more people indebted to the City Manager. Sounds familiar.
Good thing is that expanding the shuttle doesn't require that expensive song and dance.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 19, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If you want to really learn from the Stanford example realize that in the almost 35 years it has been operating the Marguerite Shuttle it has always been financed by parking fees and not used a penny from the operating funds of the university.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Justin
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 19, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Yes, parking fees. Charge for parking (meters for visitors, permits for workers), use it to fund shuttles and/or more Caltrain passes.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2014 at 4:20 pm

This is about time and I am delighted to hear it.

It should be funded by parking meters and all day parking machines in downtown and Cal Ave, great idea too.

However, I don't see how this will help with one of our biggest problems which is school traffic. The design of the routes need to take our schoolkids into account, particularly from South PA to Paly. Paly's boundaries go as far as Loma Verde at Bayshore!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2014 at 4:39 pm

This is a great idea. Just park all the cars East of 101. There is all that wasted space out there. First there is that swamp that can get filled in to make a parking lot. Then there are the parking lots for the playing fields and golf course and we could close the air port and use the runways and finally there are hundreds of acres of flat space where the old dump was. No one needs any of that stuff. Just bring in the bulldozers and build parking lots. Better yet we could just pave the golf course over. No one seems to need it anymore except to store dirt. Yes lots of useless space out there that absolutely could be used for parking lots. Palo Alto almost finished off the swamp years ago, let's just finish the deal!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PA007
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 19, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Maybe I am amazed! If you have a stomach ache , don't take the medicine for the heart. This isn't going to fix any traffic problem in the city IMO. But a nice try to tax the big guy. Please leave the small guy alone!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Peter Carpenter implied that the Marguerite program is entirely paid for by parking fees. This is not correct. Both Marguerite and the present Palo Alto shuttle program get subsidies from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. I am not objecting to these subsidies. Indeed, I think they are well-deserved because they contribute to reduced vehicle emissions, but we need to be aware of all the facts. Stanford parking fees do not cover the cost of Marguerite, and Palo Alto parking fees will not cover the cost of their shuttle program, especially since Palo Alto offers free parking. If you want to give people a reason to take a bus instead of driving, hit them hard in the pocketbook.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 20, 2014 at 11:21 am

Menlo Park has available land on El Camino where car dealerships used to be. That area is chained off so that no one can park there. It is messy and unkempt. The buildings sitting there will never be used and are falling apart.

I suggest that PA and Menlo Park work out a deal where they convert that vacant land into a parking lot with shuttles for both Menlo Park and Palo Alto. This would be a great area for parking on football days, AT&T Park game days - shuttle to Caltrain, etc. Both PA and MP would benefit with parking that is not in the main downtown areas but is available for commuters on Caltrain, Stanford games, and any other activities within the cities that require a number of people to come in and park for long periods during the day. That frees up the parking in the downtown areas for people with short time visits. That would be a win for both PA and MP.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Shuttle rider
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2014 at 11:29 am

Coordination among the entities for which existing shuttle services are provided with eliminate duplication and provide for expansion of routes serving more parts of the city and more extensive schedules benefiting everyone.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by E.S.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2014 at 11:32 am

I would be very happy to take a bus at or near Embarcadero and St. Francis to get to downtown, mid-town and California Ave. As it is now, I need to take my car except for very limited times and only to downtown. When VTA's route 88 extended to this area, we could use it, but no longer.

BTW, folks, why not dispense with the sarcasm in favor of offering constructive suggestions?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 20, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Parking East of Hwy 101 is the way to go. The existing land is not now at its "highest and best use".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Casa de Cerveza
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 20, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Casa de Cerveza is a registered user.

Great idea and please make it happen quickly! The more convenient you make mass transit, the more people will use it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Starving for transit in south PA
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 20, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Great idea!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by NIMByxbee
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2014 at 3:37 pm

I'm pro shuttle but diverting traffic onto Embarcadero East of 101 is an ill conceived notion. The intersection of Embarcadero / East Bayshore is already overcrowded and perilous. Barely 200 feet separate the 101 exit ramp from the heavily congested traffic light. Traffic is at a standstill between 8 and 9:30 each weekday morning as cars, city vehicles and semi's feebly attempt to navigate across multiple lanes of stopped traffic as they exit the freeway. The addition of hundreds more cars into this impossibly short interchange is folly.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Marcie
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2014 at 3:38 pm

I'm disappointed that Barron Park is left out again. I'd love to see a bus from Los Robles to Middlefield.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not a driver
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 20, 2014 at 4:00 pm

I'd be interested in the current ridership -- it would be good if your next article could give the data. I've yet to see a person in a Palo Alto shuttle. I don't drive around that much so don't see the shuttles very often, but when I do, they always appear empty.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 20, 2014 at 7:37 pm

I was on 101 today and East Bayshore between Embarcadero and San Antonio - this is a construction zone. The whole area of 101 from Menlo Park to Mountain View is a very dicey area as they are always moving the concrete slabs and the lines are still to be installed. Why the focus on an area that is under construction? East Bayshore is a construction zone.
People are writing into the SJ Mercury News about the traffic problems in this area.
You also have the trucks related to the soccer fields in this area.

I saw that a parking lot on High Street is under construction so some progress there.
There is a lot of planning that went into this project for a time. Does the staff who prepared this commute on 101 at rush hour?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Marcie
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 20, 2014 at 8:40 pm

@Marcie - I often ride the shuttle from PALY to work near the golf course. It is well used by commuters, including Casti students, in the morning. I think it is a great resource, but it does lengthen commute time so users should plan on that. And the buses could use some shock absorbers (!).

@NIMByxbee - thank you for describing what happens EVERY WEEKDAY at Embarcadero and East Bayshore. Using that area to alleviate the downtown parking mess is an idea with its own set of problems. Staff should meet with businesses located out there before proceeding with this plan.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 20, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Sorry - that last post was from Annette in College Terrace; not sure how I made that error. Maybe the monitor can fix that.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Planning? Give parking exemptions to developers, raise taxes to provide buses to move people from new parking lots in the baylands to downtown. This is really poor planning! I hope an environmental impact report kills this idea immediately.

It would be much better to pass a tax on businesses to pay for the needed parking downtown, give an exemption for each parking space they already have. Those who are causing the most problems will pay the most to fix them.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2014 at 7:58 am

Absolutely nothing wrong with satellite parking lots and shuttles. Many big towns have park and ride with designated bus lanes for shuttles. Now I agree that the designated bus lanes would not be something for here, but there must be an advantage to x number of cars parking outside downtown and being brought in by 1 shuttle. This keeps that x number of cars from downtown streets and driving round in circles looking for a spot to park.

Come on people, have you ever thought about how difficult it is to park for more than 3 hours on an occasional basis? Have you ever spoken with someone who refuses to go to downtown Palo Alto because they know they can't park?

Our young people are changing. They do not expect to drive everywhere anymore, and I am talking about those under 35. Our teens are not getting licenses as soon as they are old enough. Many of them are not buying cars. Zip cars and other similar are growing in popularity among the 20 somethings. Times are changing. And those of us over 40 have to see it and plan accordingly.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 21, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Tie this matter to the funding and policy questions around high speed rail.

Where are the most travelers? Where is the most wasted time for people using transit or their cars? ANSWER: it is local, not moving between the Bay Area and SOCAL.

I will not judge initial implementation ideas about how a larger shuttle concept can work in PA.

Once HSR is finally cancelled, the region can address the real need, which is to get more people out of their cars and into transit that supports their needs, door to door, door to work.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Looking for Solutions
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 21, 2014 at 3:13 pm

The Palo Alto Shuttle needs to be extended to the OFJCC. The shuttle could take middle school and high school students to the JCC for after school sports and activities. The shuttle could also link the major senior centers in the city to the JCC campus, providing access to seniors who don't drive to the wonderful day time programs being offered.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kelly
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 21, 2014 at 4:58 pm

For this to work they would need to implement more shuttle service along side the residential parking permit program. If both are in place then most employees of downtown would be more attracted to the shuttle service. If they have the choice, I think most employees would still opt for parking on downtown residential streets.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 3
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2014 at 9:21 pm

>The Palo Alto Shuttle needs to be extended to the OFJCC.
If I remember correctly, one of the inducements offered by the JCC for their oversized development, was a shuttle for their residents and others. Do they have one? or is that just another public benefit that disappeared?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 21, 2014 at 10:38 pm

I think the shuttles are a great idea. Expand it in every way possible.

Paul is dragging this back to high speed rail. It is not going to happen. Every small city has multiple types of transportation, Mountain View has lite rail, upper cities on the peninsula have BART. Go up to SF city - they have every type of transportation imaginable, as does San Jose.
Start aiming for BART to close the loop around the bay so we in PA are not single stranded on transportation. Once we do that then the arguments about HSR and Caltrain will end.


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