News

Palo Alto commits funds to fight solo-driving

City Council allocates $480,000 to downtown's Transportation Management Association

Palo Alto's drive to shift the commute patterns of downtown employees received a big boost this week, when the City Council upped its contribution to the new nonprofit charged with orchestrating the effort.

The council approved by a 7-0 vote, with Councilwomen Liz Kniss and Lydia Kou absent, an allocation of $480,000 for the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association, an organization that was formed in January 2016 with the goal of reducing the rate of single-occupant vehicles (SOV) in the downtown area. The funding aims to help the organization reduce the rate by 14 percent in the next year from the baseline year of 2015 through a combination of transit subsidies, carpooling programs and bicycling incentives.

The council's vote followed a lengthy discussion of the TMA's progress to date and a debate over whether the city should also make any commitments beyond 2018. Ultimately, the council signaled its intent to support the organization in future years, provided the organization submit a detailed business plan by spring of 2018, when members begin debating the fiscal year 2019 budget.

Despite expressing caution about future commitments, the council's approval represents the city's biggest investment in the organization to date. After initially spending $500,000 on consultants who recommended among many other proposals the establishment of the group, the council had subsequently limited its support for the TMA to two $100,000 contributions.

For the TMA, which has a budget of about $160,000, the city's allocation means that it will be able to scale up its existing transportation-demand-management programs and introduce new ones. To date, the organization has been focusing on getting people to carpool and rely on transit services, efforts that have been particularly effective in addressing the most challenging demographic: service workers.

Unlike downtown's tech workers, only 30 percent of whom drive alone to work, service employees have an single-occupant vehicle rate of 70 percent, according to a commuter survey that the TMA commissioned earlier this year. Even that, however, is a significant improvement over last year, when 80 percent of the surveyed service workers reported driving alone to work.

In some respects, the nascent organization has met and even exceeded its early goals, said Rob George, area leader at Philz Coffee and president of the TMA's board of directors. More than 1,100 users had downloaded the Scoop app, which enables carpool matching and which George said has 158 unique users Palo Alto per month (the TMA had projected 100 unique users).

But the biggest difference maker, he said, was the TMA's subsidy of transit passes for service workers. The organization had planned to distribute 25 transit passes; instead, it gave out 100 passes before maxing out its budget. Of these, 57 percent were Caltrain passes, while the rest were for SamTrans (21 percent), the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (17 percent) and a Dumbarton Express (3 percent).

"Service workers are really loving that as a benefit, to get to and from work and avoid driving," George said.

George and the TMA earned plaudits from the council on Monday night, even as some members were cautious about committing public funds beyond 2018. Councilman Tom DuBois supported a more cautious approach, which would not authorize City Manager James Keene to make funding agreements with the TMA beyond the next year. His proposal failed, with only Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilwoman Karen Holman joining him.

Councilman Eric Filseth, who voted against the DuBois amendment, nevertheless had some concerns about making commitments too far into the future. After George mentioned the recent increase in carpool usage (including Waze's recent entry into the carpool-app scene), Filseth said that this area may be more suitable for future expenditures than transit passes.

"I think all of us will feel more comfortable next year during budget allocation if we got answers," Filseth said.

The council also widely acknowledged that to truly work, the TMA will need additional funding sources. One revenue source is parking fees. The council voted in the summer to significantly raise prices for permit parking in city garages and parking lots, with the idea that the higher fees will support traffic-reduction efforts.

The city also has Residential Preferential Parking districts in downtown and near California Avenue (a third one, in Southgate, is set to premier later this year) to limit commuter intrusion into residential neighborhoods. In June, the council raised the permit prices for both neighborhoods.

According to the TMA survey, the percentage of downtown commuters parking on neighborhood streets had dropped from 19 percent in 2015 to 7 percent this year.

The council is also preparing to introduce meter parking to public garages -- a change that could spell a windfall for the TMA.

Other potential revenue sources are less certain. The council's long-running debate over whether to introduce a business tax to pay for transportation improvements stalled out earlier this year, when officials agreed not to move ahead with a tax measure at this time.

Yet the council has not entirely abandoned the idea. DuBois argued this week that a business tax to fund transportation improvement would make sense, given that commuters benefit from the TMA's services.

Mayor Greg Scharff was less thrilled about the tax idea and noted that Stanford Research Park, which includes some of the city's biggest companies, already has its own self-funded Transportation Management Association. He also recalled the city's last proposal to institute a business tax -- a 2009 measure that ultimately suffered a defeat at the ballot box.

"If we're going to do an employee tax, people will need to be very clear about what we're using that money for. ... I do think it's complicated and that we need to be very thoughtful as we go forward," Scharff said.

Despite these differences of opinion, the council was unanimous in expressing its support for the TMA and its desire to accelerate the nonprofit's efforts.

Councilman Cory Wolbach said that while the TMA is making progress, it's not making it "as fast as I wanted it to."

"Keep the fire going," Wolbach said. "I don't want to see it smoldering; I want to see it raging."

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Comments

54 people like this
Posted by tired
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 20, 2017 at 1:52 pm

please, its soooo simple JUST STOP ALL THE TONS OF NEW BUILDING HERE
enough already


17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Best solution to stop solo driving in Palo Alto for inbound commuters would be to put parking lots at all freeway offramps with regular dedicated shuttles to downtown, Cal Ave and Stanford. A parking lot with an efficient, dependable, shuttle every 15 minutes would encourage inward bound commuters to park and get to work without the hassle of finding parking near their job.

They would need to start at 6.30 am and end 12.00 midnight, with perhaps less frequency mid morning, mid afternoon and late at night, but be regular to be useful.


45 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 20, 2017 at 2:30 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

The city has money for this but must search high and low for funding for parks, animal shelters, etc etc -- anything that benefits residents?? Ludicrous!

Tom Dubois is absolutely right that the TMA shouldn't get more funding; it's already TMA has gotten at least $1,000,000 of our tax dollars, not counting how much WE'RE now paying for new parking garages, parking meters and parking permits that help the COMMUTERS but not us.

Dubois is right that it's high time for a business tax.

"Yet the council has not entirely abandoned the idea. DuBois argued this week that a business tax to fund transportation improvement would make sense, given that commuters benefit from the TMA's services.

Mayor Greg Scharff was less thrilled about the tax idea..."

It's high time the businesses start paying their own way AND compensating us for OUR lost time and out-of-pocket expenses and inconvenience.

I don't want to PAY commuters' expenses. I want THEM to pay Palo Alto for all the lost sales tax revenues the congestion has caused. I'm sure I'm not the only one who drives the extra miles to shop and dine in Menlo Park. Redwood City, Mountain View, Los Altos, etc.


8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2017 at 4:25 pm

"... the Scoop app, ... has 158 unique users Palo Alto per month (the TMA had projected 100 unique users). ... The organization had planned to distribute 25 transit passes; instead, it gave out 100 passes before maxing out its budget."

Anybody know what the current per-commuter cost of this undertaking is?

Projected cost?


1 person likes this
Posted by Homeowner
a resident of University South
on Sep 20, 2017 at 5:35 pm

@OnlineName - this TMA funding is coming from the increased permit fees that employees/employers are paying, not from any contribution by residents. The Council (including Councilmember Filseth) made this very clear when they initially allocated the money.

The first proposal was to fund the TMA with Measure B funds, which come from sales tax paid by both commuters and residents. Ultimately, Councilmembers Fine and Filseth (an odd pairing!) decided to fund it by increasing employee permit fees instead.

So the tax money that funds the TMA comes from employers and employees, not residents.


16 people like this
Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 20, 2017 at 5:42 pm

Yet the Sili Valley is on the cusp unleashing onto the streets of Palo Alto thousands of "guilt free" single occupancy, automated driverless cars! As usual it's all about money. The poor service workers, house cleaners, gardeners, retail associates can't afford not to drive and the rich have a plethora of choices to get to work or even work from home. Dollar for dollar gas is cheaper than public transportation, Uber, Waze's.

Pa


34 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 20, 2017 at 6:26 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Homeowner, don't residents have to pay for permit parking in their / our neighborhoods? If so, we're paying for the commuters to over-run us.

Won't residents have to pay for parking when the new parking meters are installed> If so, we're paying for the commuters to over-run us.

Won't taxypayers be paying for the new garages that the city will fund at the expense of other services like parks, etc." If so, we're paying for the commuters to over-run us.

So where's the Palantir-paid shuttle? Google helps out Mountain View. Where are our corporate benefactors?


37 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2017 at 6:28 pm

The real reason PACC wants to reduce single-occupancy vehicles is not to reduce traffic, but to increase capacity in order to justify more office construction.

Without a limit on office construction, reducing single-occupancy vehicles will provide no lasting reduction in traffic.


29 people like this
Posted by They Build, You Pay
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 20, 2017 at 6:30 pm

Residents are paying taxes to subsidize the businesses who were supposed to pay for the TMA. While I'm actually ok with this for retail and service workers, its not ok for law firms, tech companies, dental/medical and office workers.

The following is inaccurate reporting "Unlike downtown's tech workers, only 30 percent of whom drive alone to work". That number is based on a self administered survey of the largest companies downtown like Palantir. In addition, it does not take into account many of the smaller startups who are packing workers in at very high densities thus thi double biased survey and by no means the actual number of tech drivers who drive downtown alone.


3 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 20, 2017 at 7:23 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

My head is abuzz! So who's right, 'Online Name' or 'Homeowner'? Do any of our tax dollars help pay for the TMA? I always assumed they did and that's why so much time is taken up at CC meetings discussing the issue. That's why it is so frustrating and difficult to get any meaningful information from online posts. Posters post conflicting information, with no supporting data, and it's mostly just opining.

And @Resident...now you're thinking way too logically...out of the box? lol! I
commend you on your post, and remember attending a kickoff coffee party for Cory when he ran for office, and he brought up that idea. It makes so much sense, and if TMA wants to make bigger inroads on getting our service workers away from driving their own cars to work, this is the way to do it. I don't understand why the idea hasn't picked up some momentum. Everything seems to be focused on rail transit, i.e, CalTrain, carpooling, and bicycling to work. The idea of affordable housing, so workers could live near their work places, seems to be fading away as a reality, also.


16 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2017 at 7:43 pm

The city is willing to spend money that should be for residents, to subsidize businesses, rather than have businesses pay their employees a sufficient salary to take public transit.

Why can't a Palo Alto resident who works in another city get a subsidy for a commuter pass?


18 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2017 at 8:08 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

It is a race.

Which poorly managed endeavor will ultimately cost the residents more money and heartache, TMA or PAUSD?

Odds anyone?


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2017 at 11:29 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Concerned resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2017 at 11:52 pm

Palo Alto City managers, please see what Carnegie Mellon has done successfully to help several cities in reducing traffic jams through Smart Traffic Signals.

Web Link


26 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 21, 2017 at 7:26 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Again, PA residents paying for what businesses should be paying. Another classic example of socialism for corporations, capitalism for the messes.

Solo driving and heavy traffic in general are manifestation of overpopulation and excessive commercial development. Stop approving more commercial and housing development projects and traffic will not get worse. Choosing to become an office park comes with a heavy price, and this waste of public money will contribute absolutely nothing toward solving the problem.


5 people like this
Posted by Willows Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 21, 2017 at 4:25 pm

I am not keen on @Resident's idea that Palo Alto turn just turn the Willows, Crescent Park, East Menlo, and EPA into a parking lot to enable its own ill-conceived development.








9 people like this
Posted by Stan Hutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2017 at 5:02 pm

So what's the TMA going to do about all the traffic generated by Schools starting and stopping, all the parents who have to chauffeur their children to and from the school, also the kids driving to high school? I try not to drive past any school during the school rush hour, because it is so chaotic, with parents coming and going, and doing strange maneuvers to get their kids in or out of school. And no way would I go past the high school, with those young inexperienced drivers, who have hardly learned the basics of good safe driving.


14 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 22, 2017 at 9:04 am

Online Name is a registered user.

How about spending that money on school shuttles?? Simply coordinate the times of the shuttles with the school times. No genius or $$$,$$$-studies needed to recognize a real need and a sensible solution.

Middlefield is jammed solid every single morning with idling cars as parents back up to drop off their kids. Maybe the city could come take a look from 8:00-8:45 AM?


12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2017 at 10:14 am

Fight "solo-driving". Like it's some kind of calamity now.

How about... fight overpopulation?


5 people like this
Posted by traffic
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 23, 2017 at 6:57 pm

the whole world is completely out of control-- everything is ME, ME, ME. City of Palo Alto is no different. Keep building-- we want more money. Traffic and more cars?? what are you talking about. Keep building!! More Money. More taxes. More reasons to charge for parking. Palo Alto is no longer Palo Alto.-- We agree, ENOUGH ALREADY~~ Stop the lunacy of the city council. Stop the greed. Stop the waste and poor management of ample funds. Stop the total lack of respect for Palo Alto citizens. We don't need more high rises and more traffic. Everywhere you look ---incessant over building. Traffic?? I will bet that everyone on the City council drives solo and has their own private parking space in the city hall garage.


5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 23, 2017 at 7:28 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

This money should be used as a down payment for the rail corridor or our parks or our Animal shelter which is about to get defunded for the first time in 121 years!

Please read, sign and share the incredibly well-writtenthe petition telling Mr. Keene's office to preserve the shelter, not to use the land for another car dealer.

Web Link


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

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