News

Editorial: Growing the shuttle

New 'west' route proposed for free shuttle program

As one piece of a multi-pronged approach to improving transit options and addressing parking and congestion, city officials are in the process of finalizing a plan to expand the Palo Alto shuttle program.

Armed with a consultant study, the city's transportation department is proposing three changes to the existing shuttle program at an annual cost of more than a half million dollars, which the city council has partially provided for in this year's budget.

The current Crosstown shuttle, which provides a north-south connection roughly from Charleston and Middlefield in south Palo Alto to downtown Palo Alto, would expand to offer more frequent service between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., resulting in 30 minute "headways" instead of hourly. This route is currently heavily used by school children in the early morning and when school gets out, since it serves both JLS and Jordan middle schools. Planners believe mid-day usage by residents going downtown to shop or eat will significantly increase if the shuttles run every 30 minutes and result in fewer car trips to the congested downtown area.

The more significant expansion, at a cost of $400,000 a year, would be the creation of a new West Shuttle that would run from the downtown Caltrain station south along El Camino and then cut east to the commercial area around East Meadow near Bayshore Freeway, with an extension during commute hours to Mountain View's east of Bayshore where Google is located.

Finally, planners want to experiment next summer running an open-air trolley shuttle from Stanford Shopping Center to downtown only between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays, apparently aimed at providing shoppers a way to have lunch downtown (an idea we find difficult to fathom.)

No changes are proposed in either the Embarcadero Shuttle, which runs from downtown to east of Bayshore's offices on Embarcadero, or the new East Palo Alto Shuttle, which runs from downtown to the Woodland Avenue area on the west side of Bayshore.

To gather public input, city staff will ride the Crosstown shuttle for the next few weeks conducting a survey of riders to gather data and determine passenger destinations and transit needs. The city council will consider the final recommendations in late October or early November.

While expanding the availability of the free shuttle intuitively makes sense given the community's clear desire to reduce traffic congestion and parking problems, we have doubts about whether this proposal will resonate with the people it is aiming to serve — commuters, shoppers and residents alike.

Unfortunately, since the current shuttle operator only keeps counts of total boardings throughout each run rather than on-off counts for each stop, consultants had limited data with which to work, and no survey research of the general public was conducted at all.

With the entire west side of Palo Alto currently un-served by the shuttle program, any expansion should clearly prioritize this part of the city. But as proposed, the new route simply duplicates the current VTA route along El Camino between the downtown Caltrain station and Meadow, and then follows Meadow east to the industrial area near Bayshore Highway, then to the JCC and to Charleston.

Planners say this route is partly designed to pick up riders of Caltrain baby bullet trains downtown and give them a way to get to their places of employment, and hope that companies can be persuaded to contribute funding to the shuttle.

Planning commissioners shared a healthy skepticism when reviewing the plan two weeks ago, questioning why the proposed West Shuttle was not connecting to the California Avenue Caltrain station or to the Stanford Research Park, and wondering if this route could better serve resident needs in addition to commuters. We find it hard to imagine that a San Francisco resident working at or near Google in Mountain View would consider this a viable way to get to and from work given that shuttles already connect the Mountain View Caltrain station with those companies.

The transportation department does not have a good track record of carefully listening to public input and being open to adjusting its own concepts based on what it hears, which perhaps explains the lack of outreach to residents west of the train tracks or any data supporting this routing.

The city staff would be wise to not only vet this West Shuttle route with the public, including those left completely un-served in the current proposal along the Arastradero corridor, but to present several alternative routes for consideration and public feedback.

We also hope for a thorough explanation of how we might integrate our shuttle system with the outstanding Stanford Marguerite and potentially contract with Stanford to operate our shuttle as a fully integrated community transit system.

Without these, staff should plan for a long night when this item comes to the council.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 19, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Paly students living south of Midtown need to be able to get to school by bus. Getting the students on to the shuttles will reduce traffic as parents will not have to drive them. Students and the elderly are the most likely to find shuttles more convenient than driving than those who are going out to eat or shop. Routine commutes are much more likely to be done by shuttle than a once off or occasional trip.

I hope that the planners are weighing regular, routine, commutes rather than encouraging shoppers, diners, etc.


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm

> Getting the students on to the shuttles will reduce traffic as
> parents will not have to drive them.

The PAUSD budget is now significantly larger than the CPA's, and will most likely grow larger every year. Getting students to school is the problem of the School District, NOT the City's.


1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 19, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Joe, wrong. Getting the kids to school is the parents' problem, not the schools. The school just gives out tardy slips. They do nothing to help get kids to school. Call the school office and ask what bus routes service the schools and the person on the end of the line doesn't know. The bike racks and safe routes to school are done by the PTA, not the district.

No, getting the kids to school has nothing to do with the schools unless you live in the LA or PA Hills or EPA (and then not for high school). The only people who care about how the kids get to school is the parents.


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2014 at 2:27 pm

> Getting the kids to school is the parents' problem, not the schools.

Most school districts in the US provide some sort of transportation. Of course, most of these districts are rural. The PAUSD used to provide bus transport, but it was discontinued many years ago, as costs for labor continued to escalate.

The City currently is paying over $300K a year for the traffic guards who see students across streets. These costs are buried in the CPA budget, so most people are not aware of these costs.

Given how small Palo Alto is, there really is no reason for busing students to school.


Like this comment
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 19, 2014 at 2:47 pm

People who live near schools and who have difficulty getting in and out of their driveways when parents are dropping off and picking up their kids may beg to differ that it's only the parents who care. I've even had parents who are desperate for parking park IN my driveway, preventing me from getting out!

And those of us who may need to go down Embarcadero near Town & Country can well attest that it's not just the parents who care about the gridlock.


1 person likes this
Posted by businessdecision
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 19, 2014 at 2:55 pm

I see the words "outstanding Stanford Marguerite." I guess my comments last time got ignored. I repeat them:
You should be aware that Stanford, at the end of the day on August 29, eliminated its Marguerite "V" shuttle, doing that without informing VTA. This shuttle was the only public transport during the middle of the day from El Camino/California Avenue to the VA Hospital. VTA had formerly provided service from Palo Alto Caltrain, along El Camino, crossing to Page Mill on Hanover, and on out to the VA Hospital, before continuing on beyond that. This was the old 88 before it was split into 88 and 89. 89 now runs from Cal Ave Caltrain to the VA a few times in the morning in that direction (you can't board the bus on its return trip) and a few times in the late afternoon in the opposite direction. Veterans are stranded, and residents of College Terrace as well as Stanford affiliates and other community members have lost something that many of them valued. VTA seems open to the idea of running the 89 all day long in both directions; we have to hope that happens.
I would stress that Stanford should not be Palo Alto's first choice as a partner. For that, I would urge attention be turned to VTA instead.


1 person likes this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Paly Parent,

Palo Alto's helicopter parents are not going to stop driving their kids to school just because there is a shuttle bus. This behavior is fear driven, and is part of a fundamental change in our culture, that is fueled by a government and media that keep parents steeped in a 24/7 bath of fear-porn.

Shuttle buses can never solve the transportation problems in Palo Alto. This latest shuttle-bus plan is just a desperate attempt by the current City Council to camouflage the out of control development, that has outstripped Palo Alto's infrastructure, with a thin coating of "green-wash".


Like this comment
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 19, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Some parents are paying for those new Boost shuttle buses, the Mercedes shuttles for the kids that exhibited at the recent PA Art & Wine Festival.

I've seen quite a few of them on my rounds.


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 19, 2014 at 4:45 pm

Ahem

I suspect just as many helicopter parents are at Gunn as are at Paly. Just check how many Gunn students use the 88 or shuttles to school. The Embarcadero shuttle serves Paly and is often so full it can't take all the students waiting outside school to use it to go home. The Embarcadero shuttle is used by many Paly students, but sadly only those in the north part of the city. Those south of Oregon, and that's a lot of students, have no public transit for Paly.


Like this comment
Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 19, 2014 at 4:49 pm

The shuttle are an insignificant band-aid to a terrible injury inflicted on Palo Alto by elected representative over the last few decades:allowing gross, out of control overdevelopment that caused a population density that is abnormal an inorganic to a small town with the geographic and infrastructure constraints like Palo Alto.


1 person likes this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 19, 2014 at 4:49 pm

What are "helicopter parents"? I don't have kids so I've got no clue although I can guess.


3 people like this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 19, 2014 at 4:57 pm

PS: If the Paly shuttle is full, then there's a clear case that it's popular and needs to be expanded to serve everyone. Cut the gridlock and serve the students/parents.


3 people like this
Posted by Jean
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 19, 2014 at 5:42 pm

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2014 at 9:53 pm

"The transportation department does not have a good track record of carefully listening to public input and being open to adjusting its own concepts based on what it hears"

Wow, what an understatement! Jaime Rodriguez listens to nobody and doesn't care what anybody says. He thinks that he knows what is best for us, and he does what he wants. His arrogance and lack of concern for public opinion are totally out of place in Palo Alto. I can't believe that he has lasted as long in his job as he has. I like the idea of expanding the shuttle, but it needs to be done in the way that the public wants, not the way Rodriguez thinks it should be.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Sep 20, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Palo Alto should not need its own shuttle service. The fact that it has one only shows that the Santa Clara County VTA has failed Palo Alto. Palo Alto should get as much VTA service as the rest of the county. And I'm sure VTA coffers are filled by much Palo Alto property tax money. Read all about how the VTA is funded here:
Web Link



1 person likes this
Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 21, 2014 at 10:24 am

Other communities that have effectively reduced traffic have offered easy on and off trolley-style service that picks up in neighborhoods.

The routes are short and circular. For example, one might go up and down the Charleston / Arastradero corridor to address the absence of East and West transits and to accommodate heavy school demand.

Micro trolley-style routes that go to the neighborhoods for convenient access to senior, people with disabilities, or to simply encourage use by those that simply won't walk more than 1/2 block to find public transit.

These micro-routes could connect with the plentiful major corridor routes provided by the major transit agencies. Take the transit to the people with small electric (low-pollution) trolleys that connect all the existing infrastructure. Finally, make sure that the routes provided are really where people want to go. Talk to the residents.


Like this comment
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2014 at 10:36 am

Tim,

I am not aware of any cities that have adopted the type of trollies you are suggesting. Can you cite some real world examples? It hard to imagine that an extensive trolly system would not add to the congestion of the streets.


Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Sep 21, 2014 at 12:15 pm

@Mike

Well the VTA has a limited budget so I'd hope they'd be prudent and focus service on the communities that actually use it. The fact that El Camino has pretty good service covering a huge area of Palo Alto, yet there are endless complaints about parking at Town and Country and downtown, shows that even with public transit options available, many Palo Altans simply refuse to use them.


3 people like this
Posted by shuttles for schools
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 21, 2014 at 4:02 pm

If schools don't have the funds to offer public school buses like they do in almost every other state besides CA, then I don't see why that shouldn't be an issue for the city. The city's goals include cutting down traffic and congestion, right? Who cares what the cause of that traffic is- if they can fix it, they should. Every parent who takes a trip to and from school twice a day is a person that would be taken off the road during rush hour from some of the most congested parts of the city. That's a huge win for the entire city, not just parents, but everyone who has to put up with the traffic that they contribute to as well as all the pollution that those trips cause to our environment. This should be a no-brainer - give students shuttles and take thousands of cars off the street every morning in one fell swoop.


Like this comment
Posted by businessdecision
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 22, 2014 at 8:18 am

VTA is aware that serving north county has been something it has not always done too well. It used to do better before the feeling grew up that Stanford Marguerite was meeting so many of the needs. Now VTA has pulled back, but so has Stanford.
Stanford concentrates now on getting workers to work in the morning and back to the train in the afternoon. The simplest A to B route is not always best for those of us who gave up driving in order to use a wide variety of shuttles and VTA to get around, and we are starting to suffer.
One thing that I am trying to address is Stanford's elimination of the "V" line that, among other things, went along El Camino after leaving the campus at Serra, then turned up California Avenue, and went on to the VA. They gave that up August 29th.
The Stanford V line ran all day long, with, at certain times, detours up to the Cal Ave Caltrain station.
Now Stanford runs a patient tram behind the campus (think Foothill) from the hospital to the VA: this doesn't of course meet the needs of most of the former V riders, including veterans who boarded at El Camino and California.
Formerly VTA operated a frequent service along that route, the 88. Then a few years ago the 88 was split into 88 and 89. Veterans have about one bus an hour, the 88, from Arastradero/El Camino to the VA, but they have lost the chance of going, about once every 30 minutes, from California/El Camino to the VA. The 89 goes from El Camino/California to the VA, but only in the morning, during the commute hours, in that direction. In the afternoon commute hours, you can come back from the VA to Cal Ave. Caltrain.
I am trying to get VTA to agree at least to run those 89s in both directions even if they do not run the 89 all day long -- which is what ideally they would do now that Stanford has dropped out.
Stanford's shuttle has not always helped us since VTA has reduced service because of it. Interestingly, the V line (which I think was then called VA and did not detour up to Cal Ave Caltrain station) and the 88 were both featured in documents that were used to get the Mayfield Agreement so that Stanford could build housing for affiliates in these very areas which are now so badly served by public transportation.


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2014 at 10:20 am

> The city's goals include cutting down traffic and congestion, right?

School traffic is very small--generally a 30-min spurt in the morning (07:30 to 08:00) and far less in the afternoon, since schools get out a different times, and after school activities stretch out for an hour or two.

The goal of cutting down traffic is not one that is hard and fast. Downtown, maybe, but throughout the rest of the town--there are no fixed goals, and there probably should not be any effort to reduce traffic over all in the rest of the town.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Mountain View is also proposing new shuttle routes. The most ridiculous idea is that there is a Berlin Wall between Mountain View and Palo Alto and residents don't want to travel between them. What nonsense. Why on earth can't the two cities work together. Palo Alto residents want to get to Kaiser on Castro, Mountain View residents want to get to PAMF, and how can this happen on the proposed routes.

Also, shuttles are best for routine, regular trips, commutes in other words. I doubt very much if someone deciding to meet a friend for lunch is going to think shuttle. Instead, think students getting to school or Foothill, Seniors with routine appointments or activities.

But please, stop thinking piecemeal and start cooperating with neighbors. We aren't living on islands, but in a region.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 1:18 pm

I would be interested to hear from parents of students who use shuttles for school. Are they well used and do all students get seated or do they stand? Do all students waiting at a stop get on outside school?


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 1:21 pm

It would make sense to me to ask those who at present use the shuttle to see how and where the shuttle should be expanded. They know what is working and their experience must be valuable in quantifying the next step.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Natural wine bar Salvaje opens in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 1,765 views

Cap On? Cap Off? Recycling Bottles is Confusing
By Laura Stec | 41 comments | 1,590 views

Premarital and Couples: "Our Deepest Fear" by Marianne Williamson
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,385 views

Everything you've always wanted to know ...
By Sherry Listgarten | 11 comments | 954 views