To broaden its work to control Palo Alto's traffic and parking woes, the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (TMA) on Thursday voted to expand its transportation management program to the California Avenue area.
The pilot expansion, which will be funded by $100,000 from companies Palantir Technologies and Facebook, would seek to shift low-wage workers' mode of transportation through incentives and spreading the word. The money will fund mass transit, vanpool and shuttle programs for service workers in the area between Page Mill Road and Town & Country Village shopping center. The pilot would assess whether the programs can be replicated beyond a single geographical area. It would last three to six months beginning in January 2019, according to a letter submitted by Mila Zelkha, Palantir's community ambassador.
Rob George, board chairman of Palo Alto TMA, said its programs in the downtown area have been successful. The organization is on target to reach its goal of providing 200 free monthly transit passes to service workers, having already supplied 150 passes and received another 49 new requests for September passes. The organization has taken a boots-on-the-ground approach by visiting downtown businesses door to door to engage employees and their managers. It has also hired a part-time employee who speaks Spanish to help with the outreach.
The employees can apply for a free Caltrain, VTA, SamTrans or Dumbarton Express monthly pass worth up to $1,800 per year. The program also offers up to $1,200 annual carpool rewards with Scoop or Waze and discounts for using Lyft for short trips to and from East Palo Alto, Redwood City, Menlo Park and Mountain View, according to a brochure in English and Spanish.
The TMA board also voted unanimously to raise eligibility for the transit-pass subsidy in both downtown and California Avenue to employees earning up to $70,000 a year. The new cap is still in line with the TMA's funding agreement with the city of Palo Alto, which specifies the $120,000 in current funding it supplies must be used solely for low-income persons. The low-income threshold for a family of four is defined as $84,000 a year, directors noted.
The new cap is targeted toward shift managers, who are likely to become enticed by the program and then educate their employees, the directors noted. It also doesn't overlap with the incomes of office workers make so higher-paid employees who are covered by company programs are unlikely to be eligible for the TMA program.
Zelkha said interest in the California Avenue area appears to be strong. In advance of proposing the expansion, Palantir queried more than 120 businesses in the target area to gauge interest. The company found much support among many.
Palo Alto City Councilman Cory Wolbach, who attended the TMA meeting, praised the expansion. "On behalf of the Council, it's an important step," he said.
But he -- and Zelkha -- stressed that as the program grows, the board must find funding for a permanent program.
"You need to be planning ahead for popularity and financial sustainability," he said. Some ways might include bringing in representatives from Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Town & Country and the local dentist's association as strong anchors, both on the board and as financial contributors. Another idea included running a shuttle from East Palo Alto to downtown or California Avenue, Wolbach said. If the city establishes paid parking, it could also provide a permanent funding stream to the TMA program, everyone agreed.
More information on the TMA's programs, including the transit-pass subsidy, can be found at paloaltotma.org.