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Is this an incentive to use CalTrain?

Original post made by Perturbed Parker on Mar 11, 2011

As an infrequent commuter, I was running to catch the 8:36 CalTrain yesterday. To my chagrin, the last parking spot in the train's lot was taken by the car in front of me. That set off a chain of events....with only 8 minutes to spare, I took a parking spot on Alma, fully intending that I would get a ticket since it was a 2 hour spot only. I had a meeting in SF so my choices were to take the spot or miss the train. When I got back to the car at 2pm fully expecting one ticket....I found two. Huh? They write a ticket for every two hour increment that you are parked over time. You must be kidding me! What evil revenue seeking bureaucrat came up with that scheme? How about fining jaywalkers for every step they take between curbs. So, parking for a full 8 hour day would come to over $120 in fines. Does anyone think that might be a little draconian? That's what you get for riding CalTrain I guess.

Comments (45)

Posted by blame yourself for arriving late, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 11, 2011 at 3:08 pm

You think Caltrain controls how much the city charges for parking tickets?


Posted by TimeToSpare, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 11, 2011 at 3:10 pm

No, that's what you get when you don't allow enough time to park. That's not Cal Train's fault.


Posted by There but for etc, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Huh? PP allowed enough time to park, assuming Caltrain provided enough parking. 8 minutes ahead of train departure sounds reasonable. Don't listen to them, PP. I feel your pain - it could have happened to most of us. Ask the city what their traffic ticket policies are. Maybe the double ticket was in error.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2011 at 3:47 pm

This is exactly proving the point that Caltrain is a useful service and that improving transit connections and parking are a must. You for instance are less likely to use Caltrain again because you found parking non-existent and presumably no other method of getting to the station from your home or business.

Caltrain has to realise that people will only use the trains when they are providing a service. If you returned at 2.00pm you presumably want off peak service too. If Caltrain cannot provide the service its passengers need, then they will lose passengers as this anecdote proves.


Posted by WilliamR, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm

What percentage of people who park at the downtown Caltrain lots actually ride the train, and what percentage just use them as convenient all-day parking? (Where else can you park downtown all day for $3?)


Posted by blame yourself for arriving late, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 11, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I do not see huge crowds (or even tiny crowds) of people walking from the Caltrain parking lots to downtown every morning. Caltrain is a popular enough service to regularly fill up its parking lots by itself.

If you think Caltrain should be building more parking lots, then call them up and suggest that. I'm sure they can think about using some of their unlimited funds to build some for you.


Posted by perturbed parker, a resident of Professorville
on Mar 11, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Time to spare and blame yourself,

Your emphathy overwhelms me. The point wasn't the fact that I didn't have enough time to park. I was perfectly willing to pay the fine. I think $38/day in parking is OK (the fee for the first ticket); $120 is not. Just another friendly policy brought you to by your local bureaucrats. Keep that revenue rolling....


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 11, 2011 at 5:53 pm

I thought the Menlo Parking Nazis were the only ones to ticket twice in the same day if your car was there for awhile. What a bummer. Say, perhaps if PAPD could ticket more people dangerously speeding down main thoroughfares & ticketing the cars parked on the wrong side of the road, the PA parking enforcement wouldn't have to "kneecap" people.

When using the train, I quit using the PA lot years ago when I was followed by a scary looking guy.

When you take the train again, hopefully you'll arrive early enough to get a better parking spot. But perhaps it'll be safer to wait for the train in your car so you don't get mugged.


Posted by danielle, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 11, 2011 at 10:10 pm

it's pretty unfair to blame caltrain for you being late, and also for your illegal parking

caltrain has no control over palo alto strictly enforcing its parking policies

walking or bicycling to the train station is a good idea too

I understand how getting tickets doesn't feel good, but everything that happened was due to your actions

most people are already in the office by 8:36am, not starting their commute


Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 11, 2011 at 10:56 pm

RS is a registered user.

Its typical for a municipality to ticket more than once on the same offence to discourage exactly what you did. That way more egregious the violation, the larger the fine. FYI, Palo Alto is not the only city that does this.


Posted by Dumb Dumb, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Next time just drive your car all the way to the SF!!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2011 at 8:13 am

I think the point of this thread is that Caltrain does not provide enough parking for its passengers in Palo Alto. If someone arriving at the station for daytime trains at 8.30 cannot find a space then they are not going to be able to use the train.

Another example of how Caltrain is not serving the needs of its passengers.


Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 12, 2011 at 8:43 am

I had to carry some heavy things in my car to my neighborhood school, so I had to park nearby at the back, just a few streets over from where I live. I can't remember what it was for anymore, but I was only in the school an hour or two for PTA meeting? helping in the classroom? not all day. They don't really have much of a parking lot and it was full. I came outside to a $40 or $45 ticket.

Apparently the city does that to keep the street clear for the people who live there, or people would park there all day, which I understand. It was a rude shock for me, especially since I live right in the neighborhood and was helping out at school, but I can understand the other side, too. Especially since the kids from the high school could easily start using that street as a parking lot if it weren't for the policy.

I'm the first person to criticize Palo Alto's heavy-handed fining, but in this case, there was a clear reason and it was effective. They can't keep warning everyone not to park there, and I learned my lesson, even though I was there for a good purpose.

In the case of the train, it's probably a more gentle policy to give out two fines rather than one big one. People are discouraged from parking in the neighborhood all day, and the ones who just don't realize there is a fine to park there in the first place don't get caught with the same fine as someone who parks there all day (which has to be big enough to discourage that, if that's the purpose).

That said, if you really disagree with the policy, you can do something to help everyone else.

I parked in a lot near the Apple Store on Lytton awhile back. It was morning, the lot was empty. There was a big green sign indicating city parking directing me into the lot, and lots of reserved signs on the wall of the building at the end of the lot (so of course I didn't park there). I chose a nice spot under a tree and went about my business.

Driving home, I saw a piece of paper on my windshield and was astonished to find a ticket. I called the number, bewildered. The person at the parking office asked me what lot it was, and indicated with recognition that even he had gotten a ticket there. I went back to the lot and saw that the row I had parked in was indeed reserved, but I had to hunt for the signs -- along the whole row, there was only one sign, under the tree and turned away from the spaces, and one each way at the ends, again turned 90-degrees from the parking spots.

So I took photos of the good signage on the opposite wall, the inadequate signage along that row, the green city parking sign directing traffic into the lot, etc. And I went to Los Altos and took photos of lots of different parking situations, showing the standard is to have the rules about parking actually face the parking spots. I appealed the ticket.

And, I took my nicely done appeal and sent it to the city traffic department. I got a call back immediately. The person went out to the lot, looked around, and told me the signage was inadequate and she had already ordered new signs. They were very friendly and helpful.

Today, when I park in that lot, I (and everyone else) can clearly see where not to park and how not to get the same ticket I and countless others got before. The people who pay for and use that lot for the reserved spots are happier, downtown shoppers are happier, and for the price of a parking ticket (yes, I still lost the appeal), I showed my kid that you can change some things simply by taking the time when no one else has. In the grand scheme of things, I can't complain.

(But don't get me started on the city library fine policies!.... and yes, I did my part there, too. I didn't get very far, but I believe my involvement -- this goes back many years now -- has everything to do with why the libraries stopped sending out their overdue emails AFTER you have incurred the fine! but instead a few days before.)


Posted by Emily, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2011 at 9:13 am

You should've just parked on one of the side streets! There's free parking on any of the blocks north of Everett/Hawthorne as well as south of Forest/Homer/Lincoln. With 8 minutes to spare, that's plenty of time to walk!


Posted by KL, a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2011 at 9:50 am

I would like to comment on being followed by a scary looking guy into a parking lot. I had this happen in another lot downtown. I was followed as I drove in and had someone tapping on the driver's side window before I could even turn the car off. I know he was only begging for money but it was intimidating. If the city is going to have such strict rules for their parking lots, they should be doing more to make sure not only my car is safe, but that I feel safe walking to and from the lot. I have stopped going to downtown PA for this reason. Nothing there I can't find somewhere safer.


Posted by Neighbor 2, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 13, 2011 at 10:52 am

Neighbor -

I also was ticketed for parking in that lot, and appealed with drawings, arrows, labels, and photos showing that, from entering the lot, I could not see any signs indicating that the place I parked was reserved.

That appeal was apparently ignored.

I believe there is a problem with the appeal process, because this was a legitimate reason to void the ticket. Much like getting a speeding ticket for a special speed limit on a road with no visible speed limit sign.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Thank you neighbor for taking the trouble to improve the situation for all of us. I agree that Menlo Park has dreadful parking enforcement. They are always right there with a ticket for any reason, while the parking time limits are prohibitive in downtown Menlo Park. What can you do in one hour? I never shop there as the parking makes shoppers unwelcome. Too bad for the businesses there. I find it odd that Palo Alto streets are kept clear for neighborhood vehicles. People who use the train should be rewarded with free parking as they are making things better for the rest of us by not driving their cars. Also, why should students be punished for parking? Are they second class citizens?


Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 13, 2011 at 3:43 pm

The problem isn't that Caltrain isn't providing adequate parking. The problem is that the OP had to drive to Caltrain in the first place.

The fact that the OP had to drive and park shows that there's a failure of adequate VTA services to get this person to Caltrain. But then I wouldn't necessarily blame VTA - we simply live in a suburb, and we don't have the density to support a cost-effective mass transit system.


Posted by use the free shuttle, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 13, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Palo Alto has a free shuttle to the Caltrain station in the morning. The free Stanford shuttles stop at Caltrain. No, not every single house has door-to-door free service, but at least they try to provide service where there is the greatest daily demand.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 13, 2011 at 5:01 pm

PA has been issuing multiple parking tickets for years...just ask my wife!!!

This is not new and is not a "down economy/budget" revenue program.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Yes the free shuttle is great for those that live near it. There is no free shuttle to get my kids to school, in fact there is no paying bus to get them to school - unless they catch two and walk also. Some people ride their bikes to get to school or the station.

But, the point is still the same. There is very little sensible public transport in Palo Alto. Basically the system is broken.


Posted by dp, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 13, 2011 at 7:15 pm

I have seen it MANY times....people working in downtown PA regularly park their car in the Caltrain station then head off to work.

The problem is downtown PA is poorly planned, too dense, and has too many office and retail buildings per parking space.


Posted by tix, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 14, 2011 at 10:23 am

The logic of multiple tickets is to support availability of parking spaces, which is the purpose of limited parking times. If thye only ticketed once then anyone with a first ticket would have incentive to leave their car in the spot for the remainder of the day at "no cost" at the expense of others who would use the spot.


Posted by jan, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 14, 2011 at 11:52 am

To PParker
I understand your frustration. If Palo Alto continues to build high density, walk/bicycle, using local transit services such as Cal Train then they also need to work in conjunction with adequate parking, safe lighted and even patrolled lots and streets. However, I think the City does what it wants to regardless of the community wants or needs. Look at California Ave with no trees and now they are using whatever schemes to reduce lanes because it benefits "us". Or that now the College Terrace residents have to pay for parking permits to park in front of their own homes because of Facebook. Well, Facebook is leaving, will the City abandoned the parking permits for its residents? I doubt it, the City Staff salaries and creation of new positions is more important. I wonder how many of the City's employees live in CT or surrounding neighborhoods? Good luck on trying to reduce your fine. I wish I can tell you that California Ave. station parking has more spaces but it does not.


Posted by polly, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 14, 2011 at 11:58 am

i agree with dp. california avenue will be the same!!! they are reducing lanes and adding high density housing and offices around california/birch/park/sherman area. POOR planning is to say the least. these council members, department heads and employees will leave their jobs and work in other cities while we have to live with their poor planning long after they are gone!


Posted by root of the problem, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 14, 2011 at 1:06 pm

As mentioned by someone above, next time just drive to SF. There are loads of parking structures there willing to take your money since Caltrain obviously doesn't want it.


Posted by real root of the problem, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm

The number of parking at the Palo Alto Caltrain stations should be reduced. We are a city that encourages walking and biking.


Posted by There but for the etc,, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Caltrain is NOT the root of the problem. The weak link is the feeder transportation infrastructure which gets you to Caltrain. VTA and other feeder systems need to provide additional and more convenient service to Caltrain, and more people need to use them. It's a chicken and egg problem: do people avoid taking public transit to Caltrain because it's not available, or is it not available because not enough people choose to travel via public transit?

Caltrain's problems continue to perculate in the news. Unfortunately, it's typically discussed in isolation. Caltrain provides a spine service up the peninsula; but just like the nervous system, this transportation spine is limited in function without the rest of the feeder system in place.

It's very limited thinking to assume that our transit problems would be solved "if only we fixed Caltrain's problems" or "if only BART would ring the Bay" or "if only we had better bus service"; what we should be demanding is a functional transit *system*.


Posted by look around, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 14, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Re: needing a vast "system" to get everyone form their door to Cal Train. In visiting nea Amsterdam and in Japan, most suburbanites ride their bikes to the train stations which provide parking for hundreds of bikes (some of it secure indoor parking) . I'm not sure whetehr it is because of the immense costs of such a "system" to serve non-dense suburbs or rider preference, but they do it even with the rainy weatehr in those locations. I guess you can park about 12-25 bikes in the space of one car plus its ingress and egress requirements.


Posted by Larry Cohn, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2011 at 6:28 pm

There used to be LOTS of parking at the California Avenue station, and it used to be FREE until some time in the '60s when they started charging a whopping 25 cents per day to park there. Some time in the '80s they built housing where the parking lot used to be. The Southern Pacific railroad may have owned the land at the time as there was also a nearby railroad siding.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The Caltrain advocates and apologists here represent why Caltrain is not a viable option for most people:
1. Blame OP for expecting parking places after the peak of rush hour.
2. Advocate bicycling to the station. Please explain how you handle bicycling several miles to the station on a rainy day when you need to be at a meeting at a client's in a business suit. Yes, it can be done, but not reliably and at significant inconvenience.
3. Proposing public transit to get to the station. Very little of the City is served by transit and anyone familiar with VTA knows that it is unlikely to improve. County voters have twice approved VTA's plan to shift funding from buses and Caltrain to building and operating BART-to-SanJose, so this situation is unlikely to improve even in the distant future.
4. Blaming the OP for not leaving an unlimited amount of time to find parking, either at the station or at some distance in a residential neighborhood. Do these "advocates" realize that they are telling potential riders that if they need to be somewhere reliably on schedule that they are stupid to use Caltrain.


Posted by Too much traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2011 at 6:58 pm

I thought this city was all about biking and walking. We constantly throw around the terms "walkable neighborhood" and "too much traffic". We talk about using public transportation and constantly demonize stanford for supposedly bringing in more traffic into the city. We have no decent shopping or a reasonably sized grocery stores because of traffic concerns. Maybe we need to device what we want-visitors and adopters in town even with the traffic they bring. A new hospital even if it means more traffic. If we want to discourage driving we should ask all the car dealers to leave town-it is hypocritical to want tax revenue from cart sales, yet put blockages in the way of drivers. BTW, public transportation only world in densley populated areas, it is doomed to failure here.


Posted by Too much traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Should be "visitors and shoppers" and not as written.


Posted by Pat, a resident of Portola Valley
on Mar 15, 2011 at 1:06 am

I solved the problem with finding parking in Palo Alto. It's easy. I just don't go there anymore.


Posted by Kate, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 15, 2011 at 3:51 am

Real root of the problem, reality check. This is not New York City! "The number of parking at the Palo Alto Caltrain stations should be reduced. We are a city that encourages walking and biking." Don't force people to walk or bike by reducing parking spaces or lanes. If we really are a city that "encourages walking and biking" then why are there so many cars backed up on El Camino? No one can find parking to walk or bike from! Not everyone lives few blocks or a mile away to do so, especially, after a long day working in an office building! Maybe your life is carefree, stress free, and your children are all grown. You don't have to drive back and forth to schools, lessons, games and then rush home from the grocery store to cook dinner! You can't walk or bike to do some of these basic everyday activities.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2011 at 8:24 am

I have to agree with the other posters that this incident was not CalTrain's fault. The issue for the city is how to facilitate people using CalTrain, and facilitate shoppers, while there is intense parking pressure downtown for commuters driving to Palo Alto to work. I know lots of other cities have tried various things to encourage daily commuters not to park, while not discouraging others. It usually isn't easy.


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2011 at 8:54 am

With the high cost of real estate in Palo Alto, does it make sense to dedicate large areas to storage of cars that came from a few miles away? Expanded shuttle service is a more efficient use of land and also reduces air pollution. Starting a cold car and driving a couple of miles puts out more pollution than driving many miles in a warm vehicle.


Posted by commuter, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 15, 2011 at 11:23 am

Like it or not, Caltrain ridership is quickly increasing along with employment levels and gas prices. Tea Partyers and NIMBYs are going to try to kill any big new parking lots in Palo Alto. HSR has promised a nice new train station with a big parking lot, but the NIMBYs are trying hard to kill that.

Train riders need to think of other ways to get to the station besides driving yourself. Think about walking, bicycling, taking a bus, or carpooling to get there, especially if you are arriving after the normal rush hour. If you think there aren't enough bike lanes or bus routes to the the train station, then ask the city for more. Those are much easier and cheaper to provide than more parking lots.

And don't whine. No one likes whiners.


Posted by SorryExcept.., a resident of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm

No mention of the inconvenience to drivers who may have needed that short term
parking spot for a nearby appointment or local business purpose. Tying up a 2 Hour limit parking spot for 4 hours inconveniences many people and may have turned away customers from local businesses. I sympathize with the OP. I have had days like that. However, I have to agree that 8 minutes is not really enough extra time to find parking in this area, especially when you arrive after the crowd of morning commuters have come and gone.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2011 at 2:25 pm

One solution used at Bart stations - paying for parking is done after passengers have entered through the ticket barriers on the station. The parking spots are all numbered and the number is entered into the payment machine on the platform after the ticket barrier. Caltrain does not have a ticket barrier, but this system prevents non Bart users from parking all day.


Posted by Fedori, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Cry baby. Its your fault, not Caltrain's.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 15, 2011 at 4:31 pm

@ commuter: Your comments about HSR parking are patently false.

As reported via this website and the PA Weekly, the only way that PA gets an HSR station is if the city pays for the construction and maintenance of parking garages that will house at least 3,000 cars.

HSR/State of California will not buy the land nor pay for construction and/or maintenance.

There's nothing for the NIMBY's to kill. Both Stanford University and the PA City Council have already stated that they will not buy/build garages for 3,000 cars.


Posted by commuter, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 15, 2011 at 4:38 pm

The city isn't supporting the parking garage because they don't want to fight the NIMBYs.


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2011 at 7:14 pm

At a cost of $20,000 - $40,000 per parking space I am not surprised that Stanford and Palo Alto don't want to build these parking garages. That is $60 - $120 million in construction costs, plus ongoing maintenance, and doesn't include the "opportunity cost" which counts the loss of potential revenue from other uses.

Web Link


Posted by Time&Environment, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2011 at 12:15 am

Get a group of carpoolers! so there will be fewer cars taking up all the spaces at the CalTrain area;. Also, is there a bus as an alternative, correct?


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