New direction proposed for Palo Alto's shuttle program

City Council to consider increased service, new routes

Palo Alto's tiny fleet of city-run shuttle buses may soon see a dramatic expansion, including a doubling of buses on the popular Crosstown route and a brand new service that would link the downtown Caltrain station with Mountain View businesses.

The City Council will consider on Monday night changes to the city's shuttle program, which currently includes three routes: the long-established Crosstown and Embarcadero shuttles and the nascent East Palo Alto Shuttle (the lattermost route came into existence in July and is funded primarily by East Palo Alto). The expansion proposal would double the frequency of the Crosstown shuttles and introduce a fourth route: the West Shuttle, which would whisk passengers between south Palo Alto and downtown and would also serve employees from the West Bayshore Business Park in Mountain View via a connecting shuttle.

Though the city's shuttle program is dwarfed by other bus services, including those offered by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Stanford University, the changes proposed by staff would create the most significant expansion for the program since its inception a decade ago. The proposal is one of many strategies the council is now pursuing to address the city's parking and traffic woes -- a toolkit that also includes a new residential-parking permit program in downtown neighborhoods, the creation of a new Transportation Management Authority to spur the city's efforts to reduce traffic, and the exploration of new downtown garages.

According to a report from planning staff, the expansion would be far from cheap. Increasing the frequency of the Crosstown Shuttle from one hour to 30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. would cost the city about $88,800 annually. Adding the West Shuttle route, meanwhile, is expected to cost about $400,000 a year, a total that the city hopes will be partially offset by contributions from employers in the West Bayshore Business Park.

Staff is also proposing, on a trial basis, a summer trolley that would run at lunch time between downtown Palo Alto and Stanford Shopping Center. The trial would cost about $20,000.

In forming its recommendation, the city's planning department hired a consultant to evaluate the existing shuttles and propose changes, including higher frequency and new routes. The consultant, Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants, looked closely at the two established routes and concluded that the Embarcadero line is essentially fine the way it is. The Embarcadero already has a relatively short headway of 15 minutes, the consultant noted. Connecting the businesses at the east end of the city to the downtown transit center, it gets 75 percent of its funding from Caltrain; its timing is designed to accommodate the train schedule.

The Crosstown Shuttle, by contrast, could see its ridership rise by 40 percent if the city were to increase its frequency. The north-south shuttle is by far the busier of the two main routes, offering connections from Charleston Road to the downtown Caltrain station by way of Middlefield Road. The route is funded entirely by the city and includes increased services in the morning and mid-afternoon to support Jane Lathrop Stanford and Jordan middle schools.

In analyzing the Crosstown Shuttle, Fehr & Peers determined that the ridership peaks during the midday period and that increasing frequency between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. would particularly help seniors and residents with mobility needs. A recent on-board rider survey conducted by the city confirmed riders' desires.

Furthermore, of the 116 riders surveyed overall, more than 70 chose "frequency of service" as the attribute of the shuttle system that they value the most ("on-time performance" was a distant second).

The consultant is also suggesting starting the Crosstown Shuttle service earlier in the day, sometime between 6:30 a.m. and 7:40 a.m., because ridership is so high during the first run of the day.

Though it hasn't even been approved yet, the West Shuttle proposal has come under some criticism already because it partially duplicates the service of VTA's Route 522/22. The VTA buses go up and down El Camino with frequencies that can be as high as 10 buses per hour in each direction. This redundancy was pointed out by Councilman Pat Burt in February, when the council first considered expanding the shuttle program. At that meeting, the council requested city planners to conduct more analysis and return with a more refined proposal.

Yet both staff and consultants believe the new route would capture new riders, redundancy notwithstanding. Fehr & Peers noted in its report that while the El Camino segment of the West Shuttle route is duplicative, the city's route would provide a direct ride from south Palo Alto along El Camino Real. Currently, residents in the south part of the city who don't live near El Camino have to rely on VTA's route 88 and 104 to get to El Camino. The transfer requirement and the infrequency of these buses "would all but discourage any transit use between south Palo Alto and the El Camino corridor," Fehr & Peers wrote.

The West Shuttle would start around the East Meadow Circle area and end at Stanford Shopping Center.

Furthermore, the consultants said, because the city shuttle would be free, it would capture "casual users of transit along El Camino who do not make the trip on VTA due to its cost."

During an August discussion of the shuttle expansion, city Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez told the Planning and Transportation Commission that staff is trying to accomplish three different things with the West Shuttle that currently don't exist within the community. One is to better accommodate Caltrain commuters during the peak hours by providing a service that is "complementary, but not competitive" with the VTA. Later in the day, the West Shuttle would aid school children by offering a route from Palo Alto High School to students who live south of Oregon Expressway. Crossing Oregon, Rodriguez told the commission, can be a deterrent for students who want to bike to school and who generally get driven.

"So what we're introducing is ... a brand new school-focused route that does not exist today," he said.

The third element would benefit the entire community by adding a morning bus service, Rodriguez said. The frequency would be increased in the morning to accommodate the higher ridership, much like what the consultant is recommending for the Crosstown Shuttle, he said.

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4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2014 at 8:58 am

Interesting that passengers were surveyed. They are obviously being served.

The important people to survey would have been people who are not using the shuttle to see what would encourage them to use it.

It is good to know that there is a school orientated shuttle being considered and I look forward to hearing more about that.

1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 24, 2014 at 12:28 pm

I hope the plan includes increased or modified service during the noon hour so those of us seniors who attend daily mass at St Thomas Aquinas church during the week can have reliable transportation to and from servive. Currently the shuttle schedule does not help us. Thank you for considering this proposal.

Like this comment
Posted by Crosstown Gma
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 24, 2014 at 12:29 pm

NEIGHBORHOOD DESCRIPTION further South from San Antonio/Middlefield/Alma), say a mile TO Middlefield/Charleston/longer FOR East Meadow stop/start KEEPS Seniors in cars! Driving population NOT covered (especially many mobility,aged and/or time challenged)!! WHO WROTE OUR surveyed rider LOCATION/POPULATION OBVIOUSLY BEING SERVED??

1 person likes this
Posted by West Shuttle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm

The West Shuttle proposal needs to include at least one stop in Downtown Palo Alto on the downtown side of Alma. It is difficult and dangerous to cross Alma for the elderly, people with small children and people with limited mobility. The University Avenue tunnel at the train station can be difficult and dangerous to use. A single shuttle stop on Hamilton would provide safe service to downtown.

1 person likes this
Posted by Numbers-Please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2014 at 4:23 pm

> The Crosstown Shuttle, by contrast, could see its
> ridership rise by 40 percent if the city were to
> increase its frequency.

Based on what evidence. The Crosstown Shuttle did run on the half-hour for a long time, so the City has data that could be used to demonstrate that when the shuttle service was cut in half, then the ridership dropped by half. Why can’t we approach this frequency issue on the data that we know we have, rather than the typical, no data, approach that often signifies the best work of the Palo Alto planners?

Since the shuttles are often close to empty, or only full for a few blocks, why does the City believe that people will ride the shuttle when it runs on the half-hour, but not ride it when it runs on the hour?

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 24, 2014 at 7:39 pm

I was stuck in a 5:00 PM huge traffic jam at the East Bayshore / Embarcadero transition. There was a Stanford Free Shuttle and another Palo Alto Free Shuttle heading east on Embarcadero towards the golf course. I think that is a parking place for people - some Palo Alto city offices are located in that area as well as at the city landfill and offices.

I think that is really a good idea. I look forward to seeing what the final map is and times for all of the shuttles.

Side Note - the parking lot for the KMART in Redwood City has designated parking for the Kaiser Permanente facility across the street - that is an excellent use of parking space.
Other side note on that location - geese congregate there for the evening - that is quite a site.

Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 24, 2014 at 11:10 pm

The current East Palo Alto shuttle began in July 2014, serving the Woodland west of Bayshore neighborhood. There was a previous shuttle in existence for years which served the EPA east of Bayshore. That shuttle was discontinued when the current route started.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2014 at 8:41 am

It appears Google will be funding a shuttle for Mountain View. Web Link Seems like every City is an island around here and nobody ever goes from Mountain View to Palo Alto or v.v.

Perhaps the Berlin Wall does exist.

Public transportation, whether funded by users or funded by corporations or by city governments, must look beyond artificial boundaries when it comes to usefulness.

Like this comment
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 30, 2014 at 3:14 am

Hello friend

There is no Berlin wall.

Each city is catering to their citizens and have a good heart.
Compared to southern California, we have it good to great.

There is not one solution that will satisfy all.

Shuttle expansion is a good program. It will help the students, seniors and all that do not want to drive or that do not have cars.

Let's expand; make it better; improve it with continuous improvement in mind.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2014 at 7:36 am


You must see that Palo Alto residents don't stay in Palo Alto and often need to get across city boundaries and our transportation must reflect that. Palo Alto residents need to get to Kaiser in Castro Street, Mountain View residents need to get to PAMF, are good examples of this.

Mountain View and Palo Alto must talk to each other and get shuttles that people will use to get them to where they want to go. Each city working its own routes and stopping at the perimeters will prevent useful transportation.

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

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