An effort by Palo Alto and neighboring cities to get drivers to instead use trains, buses and other modes of transportation just got a lift from the federal government -- a $1 million grant aimed at accelerating the switch.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved the grant to fund what's known as the Bay Area Fair Value Commuting Demonstration project, which aims to reduce Bay Area's rate of solo drivers from about 75 percent to about 50 percent. The two-year grant, which was announced on Oct. 13, is part of the federal department's "Mobility on Demand" initiative, which is designed to help cities use the latest technology to solve transportation challenges.
The money would specifically be used to pursue a program known as "Fair Value Commuting," which relies on new mobile apps, expanded transit services and fees to shift people away from cars and toward other modes of transportation. One component of the program is developing software that "automates employers' commute programs and provides a real-time commute dashboard to integrate with public transit," according to an announcement from the city.
Another component of the project is a mobile app for planning trips that integrates the many services available in the area, including transit, bikeshare programs and services such as Scoop, Lyft, Zipcar and Uber.
The program also includes new fees that solo drivers would be charged; revenue from these fees would fund programs that support other types of commuting. There would be solutions to the "first- and last-mile" problems (getting people from their starting points to public transit or from public transit to their final destinations) by creating new connections between transit hubs, homes and workplaces. Another aim, according to the city's announcement, is to alleviate systemic obstacles by enabling better public transit routes across county borders, modernizing transit payment and creating shared mobility-software systems.
The grant application was spearheaded by the City of Palo Alto and Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a nonprofit that works with businesses and municipal governments to research and address regional challenges. They were representing a 23-member consortium that includes a number of area cities, companies and agencies, among them Mountain View, Redwood City, Microsoft, Google, Samtrans. the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
The project summary submitted by Joint Venture and Palo Alto notes that Fair Value Commuting program is about 40 percent of the way to becoming a "robust, scalable solution."
"Our project aspires to fully mature the solution within 24 months," the summary states.
Palo Alto City Manager James Keene, who chairs Joint Venture's Climate Prosperity Program, is one of several city leaders who have been involved in the effort. Bay Area cities, he said in a statement, "can only solve our transportation challenges through a regional approach that expands mobility options using smart technology that is integrated into our existing public transit infrastructure."
"This grant allows us to continue to make progress on commute alternatives for the future," Keene said.
Russ Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture, called the $1 million grant a "great win" for the Managers' Mobility Partnership -- a working group of Joint Venture staff along with officials from Palo Alto, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Redwood City and Stanford University.
"We are all working together to transform mobility in Silicon Valley," Hancock said in a statement.