News

Plan to expand Palo Alto's shuttle program speeds ahead

City Council approves new services; indicates that more changes will be coming

Seeking to reduce car congestion, Palo Alto officials approved on Monday night a plan to dramatically expand the city's shuttle fleet and signaled that bolder changes might be around the corner.

By a unanimous vote, the City Council approved staff's proposal to roughly double the service on the north-south Crosstown Shuttle; add a new "West Shuttle" route that would stretch from the downtown Caltrain station to Mountain View; and experiment with a seasonal trolley system between Stanford Shopping Center and University Avenue next summer. Council members also indicated that they want to explore a slew of other shuttle options, including additional service to Stanford Research Park and to underserved residential neighborhoods like Barron Park.

The council largely agreed that the city's tiny shuttle system, which currently includes three lines, is due for an expansion. Currently, the system consists of the Crosstown Shuttle, a route that stretches from Charleston Road in south Palo Alto to the University Avenue Caltrain station in the north, using primarily Middlefield Road as the throughway; the Embarcadero Shuttle, which goes from the east side of the city to the downtown Caltrain station; and the East Palo Alto Shuttle, which premiered in July and goes from the Caltrain station to the Woodland Park neighborhood in East Palo Alto.

The new proposal from planning staff and its consultants would add the West Shuttle and increase Crosstown service while keeping the Embarcadero and East Palo Alto shuttles unchanged. The council endorsed this plan and then went a few steps further.

Some members offered specific recommendations, with Mayor Nancy Shepherd suggesting a service to Gunn High School and Councilman Pat Burt saying that the city should look at the employee "nodes" at Stanford Research Park, where density may justify adding a shuttle service. Councilwoman Karen Holman, meanwhile, pointed to underserved neighborhoods west of El Camino, including Barron Park.

Many Barron Park residents, Holman said, go to Mountain View and Los Altos for their shopping because "there is no place to park downtown and it's hard to get across town." Adding shuttles in this area could make sense, she said.

Others reframed the issue. Councilman Greg Schmid suggested that information technology is making on-demand car services like Uber increasingly attractive. He called for staff to explore alternative technologies that the city can use to encourage such services.

"This is where the technology is going. This is where Silicon Valley is going," Schmid said.

Councilman Greg Scharff kept his focus on shuttles but much like Schmid he encouraged staff to think differently, and bigger. Scharff envisioned a program in which riding a city shuttle is "more convenient than a car," one in which residents don't need to rely on cars to get around and about everyone can be within 10 minutes of a shuttle stop. Though neither he nor any of his colleagues proposed actually launching such a system, they agreed that this is something worth exploring.

"I think we don't have to be a city where there's no way to get around without using a car," Scharff said.

Councilman Marc Berman agreed and also urged his colleagues to look at next steps. He went along with Scharff's proposal that staff come up with a plan for a "convenient, easy to use shuttle or ride-share system that provides mobility around the entire city and is more convenient than driving." The need, Berman said, is certainly there for such a radical solution.

"I think it's absolutely moving in the right direction of having a more robust shuttle system that can get everybody to stop using cars as much," Berman said.

Most of their colleagues, however, felt that such a program is far too complex to be included in the Monday vote on the shuttle expansion. After much debate about procedures, the council agreed to revisit this topic on Dec. 1.

The new services won't be cheap and Palo Alto officials hope they won't have to shoulder the entire load. Staff expects high-tech giants like Google and Intuit to help cover some of the cost of having a shuttle run from the Caltrain station to the Shoreline business park in Mountain View. The council's approval included a direction that staff look to the tech giants for private-public partnerships. Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said he has been discussing such arrangements with the tech companies. Some have indicated that they would like to transfer from having individual shuttle programs to the type of system the city is proposing.

"I think it's safe to say some of the employers are definitely willing to come to the table and help us out," Rodriguez said.

A bigger question revolves around schools. Councilwoman Gail Price and Vice Mayor Liz Kniss both referenced an agreement that the city once had with the school district in which the district would provide $50,000 annually to the city to support the shuttle service. That arrangement has not been in effect in recent years, Kniss noted, and revisiting it would be a "rational and reasonable request."

Several council members noted that the shuttles provide an important service to local students. In a recent on-board survey of shuttle riders conducted by the planning department, more than 30 percent of the 116 riders said they were using the shuttle to get to school.

Council members agreed that the school district should be asked to contribute. They were not certain, however, whether $50,000 is still the right figure. Holman called it a "years-old number" said there should at least be an inflation added to it.

Ultimately, the council decided not to include a specific figure but to merely direct staff to discuss with the school districts ways to reduce the vehicle traffic from students and to share the cost for the solutions. Council members also agreed that the major expansion proposed by staff is a good start but that the conversation is far from over.

"I think we all agree that we want to cut single-car trips," Schmid told the planning staff Monday. "What you presented tonight is a step in that direction."

Related content:

New direction proposed for Palo Alto's shuttle program

Palo Alto prepares to launch new shuttles

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2014 at 7:55 am

I would fully support a shuttle service that serves the schools. I don't see any reason why the students can't pay a reasonable fare.

In fact, I don't see why anyone using the shuttles shouldn't pay a reasonable fare.

I would also support a system whereby a prospective rider can actually look on their phone to see where the shuttles are in real time and how long they will have to wait for one. A system similar to WAZE which would actually show where the shuttles are would definitely help people making a decision as to whether to wait or walk.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 28, 2014 at 9:47 am

Gotta say that photo fails to illustrate "car congestion."


2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2014 at 10:41 am

The City of Palo Alto has ABSOLUTELY NO OBLIGATION to provide transportation for the PAUSD's roughly 12,000 students. This is simply an insane suggestion. The PAUSD has a budget of about $20M more than the City at this point, and it will continue to grow until it is $200M, and then head for $250M.

The PAUSD is an independent government agency. The idea that the City of Palo Alto should be subsidizing this incredibly wealthy, and not very transparent, school district is ludicrous!

NO! NO! NO!

The whole idea of having all of these neighborhood schools is that kids can walk/bike to school. The weather in Palo Alto offers almost perfect, year-round, opportunities for kids to walk/cycle to school. There is simply no reason for the City to be the designated bus provider for the school system.


1 person likes this
Posted by Wha?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2014 at 11:04 am

I use the shuttle from the train station to get to work. I am fully supportive of expansion, especially the Crosstown that stops around 5pm and doesn't serve those that need it beyond that.

The school district should pay their fair share.

Don't charge for the service - once you introduce money you need to get the buses upgraded and there are delays due to paying and the whole system slows down. Keep it simple please.


4 people like this
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 28, 2014 at 11:21 am

Joe,

The "idea" of having neighborhood schools so the kids can walk or ride ignores the reality that many, many parents are still driving to drop off and pick up their kids, creating more gridlock and occasionally blocking driveways if they can't get close enough.

Some parents are even paying the Boost Mercedes shuttle to pick up and drop off their kids.

It's a real problem.


1 person likes this
Posted by Marj
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 28, 2014 at 11:59 am

In the olden days when I went to school, the SCHOOL DISTRICT came up with the funds to shuttle or bus THEIR STUDENTS where they needed to go. Not "the city". If they, the schools, cannot it then becomes the PARENTS
responsibility to do so.

Isn't it a personal responsibility to get yourself to work? Why should the shuttles be free? A fee would pay for repairs, fuel, employees and printing of schedules.

The City moans that there is never enough money for repairs of its ailing facilities, programs, city vehicles, or cost of living increases for it's employees and yet wants to give things away for free. Not very business minded are they?


1 person likes this
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 28, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Maybe the city needs to hire another $200,000 consultant to discuss with the school district whose responsibility it is. And then hire another $200K consultant to coordinate with all the other consultants and VTA and Stanford, etc. etc etc.


Like this comment
Posted by Margita
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2014 at 12:19 pm

I recommend benches to provide seating for waiting senior passengers (see illustration in article).


Like this comment
Posted by Margita
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2014 at 12:19 pm

I recommend benches to provide seating for waiting senior passengers (see illustration in article).


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2014 at 12:40 pm

> The "idea" of having neighborhood schools so the
> kids can walk or ride ignores the reality that many,
> many parents are still driving to drop off and pick up
> their kids, creating more gridlock and occasionally
> blocking driveways if they can't get close enough.

True. The introduction of magnet schools, and special programs, such as language immersion, does negate the value of living close to an elementary school. However, the total number of students in these programs is probably only 5%-7% of the total student body.

That said, many parents do seem to drive their children to school, which increases the traffic on the road for about 30 minutes in the morning. Traffic is clogged around the elementary schools from about 7:30AM to 8:05AM. Because after-school activities result in not all children being ready to go home at the same time—then the impact of parents picking up their kids is less noticeable. Often the kids walk home in the afternoon, also.


Like this comment
Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 28, 2014 at 2:12 pm

When Jordan took away the lockers, my child had to transport a large stack of heavy textbooks as well as their various class binders back and forth every day, plus a musical instrument several times a week. And then there were the school projects that are too too awkward to transport by walking or biking.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2014 at 2:29 pm

I agree it is not the City's responsibility of getting kids to school, nor it seems in Palo Alto is it the schools.

That being said, much of the traffic on our roads is school related.

The people who will use these shuttles on a regular basis are those on regular commutes. This means that school kids are most likely to be a large chunk of the shuttle riders. The remainder are most likely to be people on regular commutes also. These people will look on the shuttle as being their best commute system and unless it is easy for them, will not use it.

1. Either buying a pass or a similar system is a commitment to use the shuttle. People value something that costs much more than a freebie which they don't have to commit too.

2. A modern technological method of purchase and payment will not hold the bus as people get on or off.

3. A modern system of tracking the shuttles, checking routes, schedules and whether they are on time, will make them much more useful.

4. Why must any type of transportation be free? As I said earlier, there is nothing abused more than something that is free. A commitment by way of payment in advance makes much more sense.

Are people likely to use a shuttle to spontaneously go to lunch, dinner or movie? I doubt it. I someone who regularly has medical appointments, a class, job, volunteer commitment, a routine library habit, community event, likely to use a shuttle? Quite possibly. Would these people be willing to pay a modest fare? I expect so.

Do some more market research into potential ridership. Not ideas of what might be expected. Get people into the habit of using shuttles as their regular habit of getting to certain places and they are much more likely to be used.


1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2014 at 3:51 pm

> much of the traffic on our roads is school related.

True in the mornings .. not so much in the afternoons. We all must remember that Palo Alto is a drive=thru town for a lot of people. Not to mention the more than 60,000 people who work here.

For anyone who wants to appreciate the impact of traffic on school days, go out and stand on one of the main streets in Palo Alto--Middlefield, Charleston/Arastradero, Embarcadero for example--on a school holiday. You will surprised how much less traffic there is--but we all have to remember that the morning drive-time traffic is only about 30-35 minutes in duration. The roads around the schools clear up markedly by 8:15AM.


1 person likes this
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2014 at 4:34 pm

"Councilwoman Karen Holman, meanwhile, pointed to underserved neighborhoods west of El Camino, including Barron Park.
Many Barron Park residents, Holman said, go to Mountain View and Los Altos for their shopping because "there is no place to park downtown and it's hard to get across town." Adding shuttles in this area could make sense, she said."
Actually the reason Barron park residents, and for that matter, residents from all over the city shop on MV, MP and LA because there is not descent, everyday shopping in Palo Alto. Grocery stores are small, dingy and substandard. There are no,places for everyday shopping in downtown PA. And where exactly " across town" does holman see as having shopping for everyday needs?
Not sure s shuttle will solve the problem for shoppers. Sounds like another wrong headed attempt to solve a problem with a non- starter solution.


Like this comment
Posted by m2grs
a resident of another community
on Oct 28, 2014 at 11:23 pm

How about electric bicycles?

I think the two high schools should seriously study and promote the use of electric bicycles.

Many PAUSD high school students, especially Gunn students, have to either bike from far away or ride bus. Electric bicycles give students a lot of flexibility that shuttle or bus does not. One charge takes you 7 to 10 miles. Perfect for school commute.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2014 at 8:45 am

Both high schools have kids on bikes that ride several miles to school so electric bikes won't be something worth promoting. Also, bikes get damaged and stolen in the bike racks and electric ones would probably be more of a target.

Many parents think bike riding is too dangerous and the students have too much to carry as being the reason not to bike. It is getting the kids out of cars that is the aim, particularly those driven by parents who still have to cause traffic as they leave the schools.


1 person likes this
Posted by incentive
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 29, 2014 at 8:59 am

The cost of traffic from school commuting in cars s much higher than reduced or free passes for students.


1 person likes this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 29, 2014 at 2:44 pm

PA city council: make a problem worse then find more ways to tax residents to'fix' the problem and create a bigger government. I doubt there are many PA residents using a car to commute to a job in PA. Commuting most often is from one city to another. It needs a regional solution not a city focused solution. The city should focus on supporting pedestrians, bicycles, cars, and public transportation through planning growth and infrastructure. The city should not be a transportation vendor using tax dollars.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 29, 2014 at 4:14 pm

"I doubt there are many PA residents using a car to commute to a job in PA."

You'll never get good statistics on that because we tell the surveys what we know they want to hear.


1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 29, 2014 at 4:18 pm

I support the VTP/Tinsely...what I don't understand is why PAUSD provides buses for VTP (K-8) but not for the students who live within the district boundaries. School buses should be available for all K-8 students.


Like this comment
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 30, 2014 at 3:00 am

Dear friends

I totally support the shuttle program free for everybody.

We are a wealthy town. We need to be generous, kind and we need to reduce cars on the road.

Let people enjoy the service and spend their time improving their life and not worry about shuttle fare.

I would rather city spend on this than hiring consultants for this and that.

Respectfully


Like this comment
Posted by Mom of 3
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 30, 2014 at 9:16 pm


Expanding the shuttle through Barron Park would be very welcome. The correct placement of the stops would increase ridership. I think a pilot several years ago placed a stop at Matadero and Whitsell or Josina, which seemed tucked out of the way, and was soon cancelled. Having several well placed stops in Barron Park would make sense.

Having a shuttle from Barron Park to California Avenue would save many car trips for our family, as much of our business is done on Cal Ave.


Like this comment
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 8, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Has the Palo Alto shuttle system been expanded yet? Saw two of them at Lytton and Alma after getting off a Caltrain at University Avenue last week. Would have made a run for one had I known the disaster I would have with a local taxi...

No taxis at evening rush hour on either side of the University Ave. station. One lone taxi at the Sheraton. Got in. Got to e sidewalk at El Camimo when the Westin doorman ran over to say he had an SFO fare.... then "my" cabbie refused to drive me further on a local trip!! No wonder Uber is doing well.

Signage for mass and any other transit info or even directions to taxi stands at our local Caltrain stations stink.

FWIW: Caltrain to SJC via the Santa Clara station with the bus subsidized by airlines is free, fast, frequent and on schedule. But the BART "two-step" from the Milbrae or San Bruno Caltrain station is still a time consuming and expensive joke.


Like this comment
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 8, 2014 at 2:02 pm

And, it's crashingly obvious from the study in the link below that if Palo Alto's shuttles are more frequent and thus more alligned with Caltrain arrivals, shuttle ridership soars.... maybe there'd be enough ridership to provide a decent enough service riders would be willing to pay for and rely on instead of fighting so much for car parking space downtown and idling at our clogged major intersections

Web Link

(note pages 12-13)


Like this comment
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 8, 2014 at 2:02 pm

And, it's crashingly obvious from the study in the link below that if Palo Alto's shuttles are more frequent and thus more alligned with Caltrain arrivals, shuttle ridership soars.... maybe there'd be enough ridership to provide a decent enough service riders would be willing to pay for and rely on instead of fighting so much for car parking space downtown and idling at our clogged major intersections

Web Link

(note pages 12-13)


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