Fueled by a regional grant, Palo Alto's new on-demand shuttle system is now set to hit the streets this spring.
The system, which is funded by a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority grant, will bear little resemblance to the shuttle system that the city has historically deployed but shut down in 2020, when the pandemic greatly diminished both ridership numbers and city revenues. That system consisted of two shuttles, Crosstown and Embarcadero, which ran along fixed routes.
The new service, by contrast, will operate on demand, with flexible routes and flexible schedules, according to the city.
While the details are still being finalized, Chief Transportation Official Philip Kamhi said the new service will feature between eight and 10 vehicles. All of them would be either electric or hybrid electric shuttles, he said.
The program is funded by a $2 million grant from the VTA's Measure B, the tax measure that county voters approved in 2016 and that devotes a share of tax proceeds to "innovative transit."
Modeled after similar programs in West Sacramento and Cupertino, the new shuttle service "will have no predetermined routes, and instead it will be on-demand, serving citywide destinations and providing connectivity to other transit," according to an announcement from the city.
It will charge a rate of about $3.50 for adults and $1 for disabled, low-income, youth and senior community members, according to the announcement. Users would be able to request rides through an app, a web browser or a phone call and catch the vehicle within walking distance of their desired location.
The city had initially planned to roll out the on-demand shuttle this fall, but had to delay the launch because of staff vacancies, hiring and new priorities, Kamhi said. The task of finding a shuttle operator has also taken longer than expected.
"Additional delay occurred during the procurement process, as we received more bid responses than anticipated, which required time to review, respond to questions, and select a vendor," Kamhi said in an email.
City leaders hope the program will help them meet the goals of their recently adopted Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, which aims to make Palo Alto carbon neutral by 2030. The plan notes that road transportation "represents the largest percentage of Palo Alto's existing carbon footprint — and a congestion headache" and it sets a goal of increasing the mode share for walking, biking and transit from the currently level of 19% to 40% by 2030.
The plan's goals, which the council approved in October, include expanding the availability of transit and shared mobility services so that they can serve 100% of all residents. This includes the creation of bike- and scooter-share programs, an on-demand shuttle and "neighborhood mobility hubs," which are areas that bring together a variety of transportation options.