Facebook is proposing to build a new bus stop to better accommodate the significant number of buses and trams it uses to get its employees to and from work and around its campuses.
The Menlo Park Planning Commission voted 4-0 on Oct. 22 in favor of a proposal by the company to build a permanent bus stop for its "Chilco Campus" that would be located at 180 to 200 Jefferson Drive and 220 Jefferson Drive, two parcels owned by Bohannon Companies and leased by Facebook. Commissioners Susan Goodhue and Drew Combs were recused from the matter because of employment-related ties to Facebook, and Commissioner Camille Kennedy was absent. The proposal still has to go before the City Council for final approval.
According to a letter from Danielle Douthett, project manager at Facebook, to the city's planning department, the existing bus stop at Facebook's "Building 24" at 200 Jefferson Drive is used both for regional buses getting commuters to Facebook and for inter-campus trams for moving people between offices. The current setup doesn't separate pedestrians and bicyclists from vehicles well and requires buses and trams to turn left onto Chilco Street, which generates traffic. As a result, she said, the efficiency of bus and tram operations is limited at the bus stop.
The stop currently sees traffic on the order of 568 scheduled employee bus pickups and drop-offs daily, and about 1,170 daily scheduled tram trips to and from the bus stop, according to a traffic analysis by Fehr & Peers, a transportation consulting firm.
The proposed new bus stop would add shade structures for people waiting for the buses. It would fit an estimated 10 buses at a time, rather than the current three, and eliminate the need for trams and buses to turn left onto Chilco Street.
Unrelated to the bus stop but also part of the proposal is a request to build two new guard shacks for security workers at Facebook and add some landscaping changes.
The new bus stop would eliminate about 157 parking spaces across the two parcels and 14 heritage trees. Facebook has promised to plant 29 trees to comply with the city's heritage tree ordinance.
The presence of Facebook buses in the area and the perception that they interfere with other commuters or locals is not a new problem – Belle Haven residents have complained for some time about the many Facebook buses on Chilco Street, and on Oct. 25 cyclist Joe Kozocas submitted a video to the City Council showing Facebook buses parked on the Bay Trail.
The following day, John Tenanes, vice president of facilities and security at Facebook, wrote to the council, saying he believed the occurrence was an isolated incident, and that he had spoken with both the bus operator and the person who submitted the video.
"I recognize that the bike path is used by many in our community including Facebook commuters and it's our intent to continue to make and improve safe bike routes and riding conditions," he said in the email.
Buses, buses everywhere
Facebook's bus system is one of its most effective options to get employees to and from work and to avoid driving solo. The company has a mandatory "trip cap" — a maximum number of vehicle trips that are permitted in and out of Facebook each day – and will incur significant fines if it exceeds the cap. The fines start at $50 per trip per day and can rise to $200 per trip per day if the cap is consistently surpassed.
Douthett told the Planning Commission that about 45 percent of the company's employees use the bus services.
Facebook currently provides free, direct commuter buses to its Menlo Park offices from about 60 places in the Bay Area, including Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Mountain View, Cupertino, Campbell, Berkeley, Oakland, Dublin, Redwood City, San Jose, San Ramon, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and Scotts Valley, according the Fehr & Peers report.
Trains, ferries and more
Even beyond the bus program, though, Facebook has a wide-ranging and comprehensive set of alternative offerings to employees to deter them from driving solo, according to the Fehr & Peers report. The report describes additional transit offerings Facebook provides employees:
● The ability to expense a four-zone Caltrain monthly pass, and be reimbursed $63 a month in pre-tax dollars to park at Caltrain stations. Employee guests can ride shuttles from Caltrain if they request a pass.
● For people who live in the East Bay, a free Clipper card with cash value to ride from any East Bay BART station to the Union City BART to catch the transbay shuttle.
● An inter-campus tram network, and a separate on-demand car service for moving between campuses.
● A bike share program that lets employees use bikes for trips around campus.
● An on-site bike shop with dedicated mechanics who service personal bikes for free and charge only for the cost of parts; a 24/7 DIY FixIt station with a free vending machine for bicycle repairs; a monthly Bike to Work Day with rides led by staff at the bike shop and giveaways; and both interior and protected outdoor bike parking at each building.
● A ferry service that runs from Marin County and the East Bay to the Redwood City ferry terminal, launched last May.
● A vanpool program that allows groups of people to share rides to and from work, mainly in the South Bay and East Bay.
● An internal "Facebook Ride" app that allows employees to match and coordinate carpools, with an incentive program in the works.
● The promise of a free ride home for employees in cases of emergencies.
● A private fleet of more than 15 Ford Fusions and minivans that employees can reserve for free if they commute using alternative transportation and have a midday errand or business appointment off-site.
● A Zipcar rental program, in which all full-time employees are provided free annual membership. Employees pay for the private rentals.
● A preferential parking program for electric vehicle drivers, who can charge their vehicles for free. The company now has 226 electric vehicle ports.
● A set of educational and promotional programs, in which new employees are advised on various commute options during orientation, are offered bike commuting classes, and have drop-in access to commute advice.
Following the Planning Commission's vote on Oct. 22, Commissioner Andrew Barnes concluded, "Congratulations, good work, and the community thanks you for taking cars off our roads."
Correction: We mistakenly spelled Joe Kozocas' name as Kozokas in our print edition, and apologize for the error.