A new service that's putting wheels down in the California Avenue business district may allow Palo Alto workers to commute as the Googlers do -- in roomy, WiFi-enabled buses that offer a direct route to work and a break from morning-commute stresses.
San Francisco-based RidePal's business model is based around the commuter perk famously offered by large tech companies such as Google and Facebook. Unlike those ride-sharing programs, which offer the service only to their own employees, RidePal will cater to individual commuters and businesses alike, allowing companies to pay for part or all of their employees' fare with pre-tax dollars.
"You get a productive, relaxing commute that's better than sitting on 280, fuming," Chief Revenue Officer Dominic Haigh said. "And it's better from the city's standpoint, as well. It means less cars on the road -- less traffic, fewer parking problems."
Traffic and parking are at the top of the list of concerns for many area residents as Palo Alto considers approving a massive office development at the site of AOL's current Silicon Valley Headquarters, which critics say would cause severe parking and traffic problems.
For the time being there will be only one RidePal bus that starts in San Francisco and stops in Palo Alto, and it will skip downtown in favor of landing near the Park Boulevard base for Groupon, which is participating in the service.
"RidePal's shared model allows us to lower our costs while offering a superior commute option to our employees," Chris Brey, senior manager of facilities at Groupon, stated in a press release. "We welcome this new service, and it'll be exciting to see other local companies participate as well."
Avoiding downtown Palo Alto may seem like a surprising move for a transportation company trying to get traction in a commute-alternative-hungry city, Haigh said. But bypassing downtown is important because reducing stops speeds up the commute and avoids the "airport-shuttle feel," he said. As interest from downtown commuters comes, RidePal will consider offering another bus route to that area, he said.
RidePal already offers commuter options to and from Mountain View, San Jose and several neighborhoods in San Francisco.
Founder and CEO Natalie Criou, a former Google employee, said the idea for the company came after she left Google and stopped being able to take the bus to work. After that, she said, her world "collapsed."
She said she found that many businesses were interested in taking advantage of the perks of offering employees an easy commute alternative but weren't interested (or couldn't afford) investing in building an infrastructure to support it.
"We've sent people to the moon; we should be able to take people from home to work," she said.