Letters | August 29, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - August 29, 2007


VTA spin


Recent VTA ads in Palo Alto newspapers make it sound as though they are streamlining Palo Alto bus service to make it better. Actually, they are proposing to cut overall service in Palo Alto by about $1 million and to transfer those dollars to other cities in the county.

VTA points to the few improvements they have made but fail to mention the significant reductions in service that the latest proposal would put in place. Lines 88, 35, Express 101 and Express 104 all will be affected by cuts or reductions. Contrary to VTA implications, there are no additional Palo Alto Shuttle resources available to replace this service.

VTA officials promise to expedite a comprehensive review of Palo Alto's transit resources. In the meantime, however, they are putting forward a revised proposal that allocates dollars that would have been spent in Palo Alto to other cities.

Please join me in asking the VTA Board to postpone making any decision regarding Palo Alto line reductions until after the promised study of shuttle and community bus service is complete.

The VTA board meets August 30, 5:30 p.m., Board of Supervisor's Chambers, County Government Center, 70 West Hedding St., San Jose.

Penny Ellson

513 El Capitan Place, Palo Alto

VTA still cutting


VTA heard the packed audience at Lucie Stern Community Center and took partial measures. Service on the 88 bus was restored along Charleston, but the bus still goes to the infrequently served Mountain View Caltrain station rather than the University Avenue station.

One morning bus and one afternoon bus along Louis Road will serve Gunn High School. That means a Gunn student who stays after school to use the library, receive tutoring or play sports won't be able to take the bus home.

VTA will consider shuttle and community bus service in Palo Alto but only after cutting the budget available by $1 million.

Current transit riders will find other ways to travel when the 88 bus is cut while the issue is "studied."

VTA's COA presentation said that community bus lines should be viewed as "placeholders for resources." So VTA's "cut first" approach severely limits the potential outcomes of the study.

For comparison, the Palo Alto Shuttle carries about 175,000 passengers per year at a total cost of about $500,000, of which two-thirds is paid by the Palo Alto General Fund. And about $20 million of VTA's funding comes from sales tax from sales within Palo Alto.

The VTA Board will decide on Thursday, Aug. 30 at 5:30 p.m. There is still time to send emails to board.secretary@vta.org or speak in person.

Arthur M. Keller

Planning and Transportation Commission, Palo Alto

Inspired designs


The August 23 special session of the Architectural Review Board was inspiring.

There were two scenarios presented for the new public safety building on Park Boulevard, dependent on whether one or two parcels are available. There were also two scenarios presented for the new Mitchell Park Library, dependent on whether the community center is also rebuilt.

I was particularly thrilled to see the plans for a new Mitchell Park Library, which is so desperately needed. A lovely heritage oak will be preserved in a courtyard setting which could provide space for small theater programs, weddings and other activities currently unavailable in south Palo Alto.

An emphasis on indoor/outdoor access is present in many of the spaces, including the children's programming area. A small café is an option, enhancing the space's ability to be a destination.

Of course, the traffic flow is improved and pedestrian and bicyclist safety is better in the new plan than in the existing facilities. Plus, the tennis courts stay where they are and there is no underground parking at all.

It's clear that the city took the lessons of 2002 to heart and has created a reasonable plan that provides the services we need in a wonderful setting.

Alison Cormack

Ross Road, Palo Alto


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2007 at 11:33 am

This is a ridiculous ending, showing lack of foresight and forcing commuters into their cars.

Editors, please transfer the comments from the "letters" thread to this one as they need to be read by all interested in this issue.

Posted by VTA is right, a resident of another community
on Aug 31, 2007 at 11:52 am

Bravo to the VTA for not listening to the whining of Mossar, kishimoto and ellson et al and going ahead with this much needed revamping of the Santa Clara transit system. The entire county, not just PA will benefit from this--it is too bad that certain PA leaders do not care about other county residents and only see things through their "PA must come first" blinders.

Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on Aug 31, 2007 at 11:59 am

Line 88 was an amalgam of previously unsuccessful routes. It is better to start with a clean slate and come up with transportation routes that can meet current needs at a reasonable cost.

Note that Palo Alto does not and does not have to rely on VTA for all of its transportation needs. The city has its own shuttles, Caltrain has shuttles, Stanford has shuttles, Dumbarton has a bus,
Samtrans has a number of lines that serve Palo Alto; there is a lot to work with if it is organized and promoted properly.

Supporting line 88 was a losing battle from the beginning.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2007 at 12:28 pm


The schools do not have buses and the shuttles do not serve shuttles, it was designed to serve shoppers.

School kids need route 88 to get to and from school, and they need to get their for their schedules, both academic and sport which mean that they need it more than twice a day. Even for those who do use the shuttles for school, they are packed in like sardines into the small vehicles.

Yes you are right, the whole thing needs to be looked at. But, until that happens we are creativing havoc for students, parents, residents of the Arastedero corridor, and anyone who drives that area.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2007 at 12:30 pm


Sorry, my first paragraph should say....

The schools do not have buses and the shuttles do not serve schools. The shuttles were designed to serve shoppers and the elderly going to PAMF.

Posted by Winslow Arbenaugh, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 31, 2007 at 3:46 pm

Public transportation, including efficient coordination between public transportation agencies, is nothing short of pathetic in this region. It's an embarrassment, period.
As well, local policy makers - here and in other communities - have been EXCEEDINGLY WEAK in finding ways to improve our system.

I am so tired of one official (elected and otherwise) after another promoting "green this" and "green that", yet FAILING to MAKE intra-regional cooperation happen in a way that make it easy to use public transportation.

The whole thing is a short-sighted, lacking in strategical-and-tactical-execution, mess - and that's being kind.

I am an ardent environmentalist, but see virtually NOTHING being done in a very public way to counteract the ineffectual and unacceptable public transportation systems that we have today.

Above, someone said that "we are a car culture". That's true. Now, let's look at what that car culture has cost us. War. Massive pollution. *Inefficiencies* born of lost time and strategic proximity, and on, and on.

Our public ttransport, compared to the European Union, is PATHETIC.

There is no granmd strategy for ogetting people off the roads; there is no SERIOUS inter - or intra-regional effort being made to fix this. Instead, we have people sitting on transportation boards, being nice to one other, instead of doing the hard work of selling each other a cohesive, efficient, cheap, and easily accessible public transportion system that people WANT TO USE.

The last three words, above, are the key - i.e. "want to use". If we make that happen, we WILL get people out of their cars.

Along with this, we need SERIOUS rethinking about infill housing along transport corridors. Anyone running for City Council that doesn't favor this shoiuld be filtered out immediately as someone out of touch with the future.

Our housing patterns, general ignorance, and a LACK of political will has brought the situation we find ourselves in today - dependant on the automobile, and stuck in smog for literally weeks a year as we slog over freeways on the way to a job that supports a living standard that is quickly becoming unsustainable.

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on Aug 31, 2007 at 6:28 pm

Winslow Arbenaugh need not compare Palo Alto to European cities. It's enough to compare the Bay area to any of the east coast cities (NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore , Greater DC ) that are mostly a series of suburbs with excellent public transportation. ( For those of you who do not know: Manhattan, Philadelphia's Center City, Baltimore City or Downtown DC are but a small part the mentioned cities the rest is suburbia-like city very much like most of the Bay area ). "Bay Areans" use their cars too much, partially because there is no other way ( those healthy people who can walk do, but you can't commute walking by the most part). Perhaps a little bit more housing density would help a public transportation policy...

Posted by VTA is right, a resident of another community
on Aug 31, 2007 at 8:42 pm

Breen Kerr states:
"Palo Alto and north-county cities provide substantial tax revenues to the transit system; yet get a disproportionately low share of the service, VTA Board member Breene Kerr pointed out."

Perhaps that is because less Palo Altoans wantto use publci transportaion. there is also a socio-economic view of this. Palo Altoans tend to be more well to do and therefore do not prefer to use public transportation--other cities have a more diverse population with a greater need ofr public transportation.

Mayor Kishimoto states:
"Palo Alto Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto said she supports the overall goals of the new plan, but implored the board to reject the comprehensive design, saying that Palo Alto has taken up "a call to action to build a green economy through innovation. Palo Alto has the highest job density outside of San Francisco. Thinking regionally, we play a regional core role.""

Who said PA has taken up a "call to action". Does the mayor have mandate from her city or this just her plan??? the mayor and others constantly talk about "walkable" neighborhoods--well in order to achieve that each neighborhood will have to have it's own services--grocery stores etc. Just try building anything in PA--you get immediate compalints abouttoo much traffic etc (which ironically has been Mayor Kishimoto's comment about every development in the city for years). there is another thread discussing a potential dog park--right away the neighbors are against it--too much traffic, do not want "outsiders" in the neighborhood.
Sorry Mayor--you cannot have it both ways and sorry Palo Alto the VTA acted in the best interests of the county.

Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 31, 2007 at 9:28 pm

I am a supporter of keeping the #88 bus because my property taxes go to support the VTA system, and northern Santa Clara County pays for those buses. But, I walk regularly along Louis and see the #88 bus often, and it never has any passengers in it!!!

Posted by Winslow Arbenaugh, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 31, 2007 at 10:30 pm


Many buses have sparse use. That's because they are not CONVENIENT, as part of entire uncoordinated transit system.

It's a shame that those who do use #88 are losing its service.

IN America, buses and trains, and effective intra-modal tranpost has always taken a back seat to the automobile. We get what we pay for, which is a poorly designed, inconvenient, hard-to-access public transport system.

The only thing that will change that is political will on the part of policy makers. Our current transport agencies are lame, period. They are lame because they have always been second hand cousons to the car.

It will take REAL LEADERSHIP and courage to create mass transport that people WANT to use; transport that is more convenient than a car. Until that happens, nothing will change - we'll just see VTA and the other transport agencies shuffling the deck every few years.

Posted by Mildred, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 31, 2007 at 11:33 pm

There is no mass taking mass transit in Santa Clara County, that's the problem.

The consistent record is that passenger fares pay about 9½ cents on the dollar of Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) expenses year in and year out. Guess where the other 90½ cents comes from to pay a dollar of VTA expenses? Yep, you and I pay transit taxes every time we buy something with sales tax in this County.

The South Bay began buying its pig in a poke about 35 years ago when the VTA was created by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in 1972 to oversee the region’s transportation system. VTA's primary responsibility since its creation has been the development, operation and maintenance of the bus and light rail system within the county. In an area which became Silicon Valley over the past 35 years, an area of unprecedented growth and wealth creation, VTA has proven to be one of the biggest financial losers on the planet, with passengers paying less than a dime on the dollar of expenses.

The VTA pig is growing quite expensive; nearly $400 million in expenses last year. We are still paying; our grandchildren and their grandchildren will be shoveling their transit tax dollars into the black hole called VTA forever.

To add insult to injury, VTA graciously accepts Palo Alto transit tax dollars, then routes all its buses and trolley cars through South County. Check out the VTA website, you will find nary a mention of Palo Alto, despite the fact so many work here that our daytime population more than doubles. Is that an opportunity for VTA? You’d think so, but the 12 members on the Board dominated by San Jose do not; they vote to spend most of the VTA budget south of Palo Alto.

History is a pretty good teacher.

Do not expect mass transit to bail you out of any dense population redevelopment strategy.

The next biggie in Palo Alto’s future: Stanford University, from which all blessings flow, is in the process of delivering some really great news wrapped in some really bad news.

The great news: Stanford wants to redevelop its Medical Center and add to the Stanford Shopping Center.

The bad news: a 62% increase in busy hour vehicular traffic sprewing greenhouse gases mostly because Stanford plans to wash its hands of the responsibility for housing any of the 4,000 new employees its massive development will require.

Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 1, 2007 at 10:42 am

This final decision shows what little clout our City Council has with the County or any outside agency for that matter.

Posted by VTA is right, a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 2, 2007 at 12:46 pm

Why do you expect our city council to have clout in the region. I think other cities in the region see our city council as a group of self-adsorbed pipedreamers, who only demand "regional cooperation" when something will negatively effect Palo Alto. Otherwise they are wrapped up in their petty projects, that usually do not involve caring about what is good for the region in general.
Do you seriously think that regional authorities will care when you send Mossar and Kishimoto to complain or people with fancy titles like "Palo Alto Parent-Teacher Association Traffic Safety Committee Chair."
Palo Alto has reaped what it sowed over the years

Posted by Feeling like a tea party, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2007 at 11:29 pm

Dear VTA is right,

If the regional authorities do not care about the complaints of Palo Alto, in your opinion, why should Palo Alto continue to send them sales tax revenue? This latest round pulled over $750,000 in funding from Palo Alto.

How would Mountain View feel if Palo Alto responded to the "taxation with representation" sentiment it feels and dropped out of the county transportation kingdom. That would leave Mountain View on the northern boundary of the transportation authority without any subsidy from Palo Alto.

The recovered sales tax would be a big boost to the Palo Alto shuttle system and would help get its kids to school.

Posted by VTA is right, a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 3, 2007 at 7:23 am

Tea party---PA does get service from VTA--it may not be the service that it wants, but let's face the real picture--Palo Alto uses VTA less than other cities. As I stated in another post, part of this is an socio-economic issue and part is the fact that residents of PA love their cars.
the VTA had to address the region's needs--they took note of PA's concerns and felt that the nees of the entire region were more pressing than the needs of PA.
I would not be surpirsed, given the lack of regional cooperation by PA, if they diod decide to drop out of the VTA--that would be a big mistake for PA>

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2007 at 11:23 am

PA loves its cars.

No, sometimes there just isn't an alternative to using cars. If there is no bus going to the schools, then we have to use cars. My kids ride their bikes, but when it is wet or when they have extra stuff to take to school, there is no alternative but for me to drive them. It is not what I want, but it is all there is.

If the 88 goes, it will get worse. We will have to drive more. My kids don't use 88 for school, but they do use it to get to Caltrain and they also use buses to get them to the Mountain View light rail. They also use the bus to get them to Stanford shopping centre, only they can't find out how to get back so usually call me saying that they can't find a bus stop. How dreadful is that, the bus stops are not obvious and people can't find them.

Improve the service, advertise the service and make it easy for people to find out how to use it. Then ridership may go up. Take away service and it never will.

Posted by Mildred, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 3, 2007 at 1:28 pm

Dear VTA is right,

VTA is heading us all right to the poor house. With VTA passengers paying just 9 1/2 cents per dollar of VTA expenses, by far the smartest thing would be to leave that loser. There has to be a better, more cost-effective way.

Posted by ItsAProblemForMe, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 3, 2007 at 6:51 pm

I am a senior living on Louis road; I avoid using my car as much as possible. I used 88 to get around the town and now I am going to loose my main transport. It was bad enough when they changed the route 88 and it stopped going to Stanford Mall / San Antonio Mall; I got off at Charleston and took a connecting bus. But now I have no option ...

Does anyone know how to request the free shuttle to cover Louis? I don't think the decision to add to the shuttle's route will be taken in another month - but I would like to initiate the process atleast.

Posted by Parent of Gunn High School Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 5, 2007 at 12:42 am

When I was growing up, public buses got me to and from both Middle School and High School, especially in bad weather. After all, public buses are supposed to serve the needs of the public - and the school commute is one of those constant needs.

Now my Gunn High School student (and my other soon-to-be Gunn High School Student) cannot take any public bus to school, and those students who are lucky enough to be able to get onto the much smaller, less frequent shuttle are risking another incident like the one last year where the back exit of the shuttle popped open from over-cramming and a student fell out and was injured.

Too bad for students with after-school activities, though. Ride options will cease to exist for many of them.

Bikes are great and eco-friendly, and my HS student uses hers frequently, but one cannot ride a bike when it is pouring rain, or when one is carrying a lot of gear for sports and other activities. Unlike the Palo Alto stereotype, she does not have her own car, nor is anyone available to drive her to and from school.

And, of course, a large development of new housing is being built at the end of Meadow, and new housing is always likely to generate more students in the local schools...

Way to go, VTA. New development means bus demand is likely to increase, but of course you will not put any service back - you have no history of ever doing so. My husband says he will never again vote for any measure supported by the VTA, and I agree.

Posted by Patricia, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 5, 2007 at 12:18 pm

It is absolutely ridiculous that there is NO WAY for the families in Midtown and south palo alto to get thier children to and from EITHER high school. Bikes aren't the answer; because of winter weather, far too many people who significantly speed where our kids need to bike, and bike lanes that are a joke (where they exist). How much has the city spent on "studying" traffic issues. If you want to encourage bike usage (which I do) then do it properly. The city of Copenhagen, Denmark with a population of nearly 2 million manages to have 40% of it people commute by bicycle !!!! This isn't rocket science. Simply requires common sense and committment.

Posted by Leave VTA, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 5, 2007 at 12:53 pm

Leave VTA, and start our own commuter system; then, coordinate that system with VTA.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 6, 2007 at 9:10 am

I find it hard to criticize the VTA for not running a school bus. That is not their business, and the operations and personnel models are different for school buses and full-time buses. If we want school buses we should be pressuring the school district to operate them. They WILL respond to local pressure, provided it is backed up with $$.

Posted by Another Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2007 at 9:22 am

PAUSD Parent

I tend to disagree with you. True in America, there are school buses run by school districts. However, in other countries, the community would not expect the school authorities to transport the kids to school. What they would expect is the local bus/transport authority to provide a service that meets the needs of the community. A bus service to and from a school with over 1,000 students, plus teachers and support staff, is a prime example of a need for a public transport system. A school especially needs an efficient service because the majority of those attending school do not drive and that would include the staff, parents, etc.

The fact that the school is an educational facility and not a business is not relevant. It is an establishment where 75% of the attendees need to get there on a daily basis. It makes logical sense to provide a pay per ride bus service. Whether this pay per ride service is paid for by monthly tickets, bulk tickets, individual payment or whatever, is irrelevant. The fact that the transport is ignoring this market is ludicrous. The fact that the school board and city management have not been putting more pressure on VTA is equally ridiculous. And, while we are at it, Paly needs better transport options also.

Posted by VTA supporter, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 6, 2007 at 10:53 am

VTA runs more buses than the 88 line in Palo Alto, and these other lines have much higher ridership. The VTA has been heavily criticized for running unprofitable lines in response to political pressure. That is exactly what the 88 supporters are asking for. Thoise buses are almost empty except for school traffic twice a day. If VTA goes into a death spiral, the 22, 522 and 35 lines will go down with it, as well as service elsewhere in the County. If VTA can concentrate on core lines and get their business act back on sound financial footing, then perhaps they can expand in the future. While the cutback hurts parts of Palo Alto in the short run, killing VTA entirely would hurt more people in the long run, even in Palo Alto.

Posted by sohill, a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2007 at 11:48 am

PAUSD parent,

Another Parent is quite right. Having lived abroad for many years and indifferent countries I do not know of any other country in which the schools/school districts provide transportation Also in many big cities (NY city, Philadelphia and others) transporation specially for higher grades is provided only in the form of tokens or passes for the regular buses. School provided transportation has an in-built waste: what are the buses doing when they are not transporting?
The fact is that public transportation is for the benefit of the public and a service to all: young and old, carless or not.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 6, 2007 at 12:45 pm

Well, regardless of what happens in other countries, we are living in THIS one. PAUSD ran lots of school buses until the early 1990s, and they still run some. They added a bus line last year as a result of requests from parents. The expense of idle buses during the day is less than the expense of idle workers. School bus companies hire people to work those special hours, while public bus companies hire people to work full days. The business model and labor pool is completely different. If we had a full set of busy bus routes then it would be easy to give kids tokens for those routes, but we don't.

Posted by Another Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2007 at 1:17 pm

From my experience, and I have had kids in four PA schools, the school buses that are run on a daily basis are for specialised services, not available to all.

1. EPA Tinsley kids to all schools.

2. Stanford campus kids.

3. LAH kids.

4. Special needs kids.

For the rest of us, we have to fight our way to school with no help from the district.

Posted by VTA Watcher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2007 at 5:32 pm

VTA said they will work with Palo Alto and Stanford to coordinate VTA service, the Stanford Marguerite, and the Palo Alto Shuttle. Hopefully, Samtrans will also be part of the discussion. The process is supposed to reach a conclusion by the end of December (the new 88 bus plan goes into effect on January 14, 2008).

Pay attention to opportunities to participate in the development of such a plan. Hopefully, it won't all be done quietly by staff without public participation.

Posted by Parent of Gunn High School Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 6, 2007 at 6:32 pm

PAUSD parent:

You mention that PAUSD may have perhaps run lots of buses until the 1990's, but by the time my children entered the PA school system, such services were absolutely nowhere to be found in my part of town, and still are not. My children never had any such option available, though it would have been a great boon to us in the lower grades when they were too young to trust riding a bike on their own to a fairly distant school.

School buses, where available, are typically provided only for the lower grades where almost all the children have the same school start and end time, and are only going to and from home and school.

School buses are not normally considered for commuting by districts for higher grades by all the suburban and urban American school districts I have known.

High School students in particular have much more varied times for entering and leaving campus, and often their first post-campus destination may be a part time job, the library, or some such, not their home. We're talking people approaching adulthood here. Their greater transportation needs are typically (and better) served by regular local bus lines with (or without) a monthly discount pass system, tokens, or a student-rate fare.

Public transportation is a lot more than just a "school bus" when it comes to High School students. For carless students, just as for any other carless resident, they are the other get-around-town option to bicycles on our not-always-so-safe roads, in bad weather, and for carrying many items. The fact that the particular people's particular daily "job" involves academic study whereas mine involves earning a wage should make no difference when discussing the need for decent public transportation.

If you believe a public bus line in the area is still not going to be viable for existing Palo Alto residents (and the soon-to-be new residents of the large Meadow housing developments-in-progress), what do you perhaps propose as an alternate solution?

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 6, 2007 at 9:46 pm

If, at some point in the future, there is enough demand to justify a general-purpose public bus line, then VTA should supply it. That is not the case now, and my point is that the school argument is NOT going to sway them (look at the vote). They are not interested in running school buses, and never will be. If you want to convince them to run a bus line, use a different argument. If you want a school bus, look to someone besides the VTA. That is simply the way things are here. Pointing out that things are different elsewhere or need not be this way makes for fine discussion, but will not result in useful action.

Posted by Parent of Gunn High School Student,, a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 6, 2007 at 10:26 pm

"Back to School Night" tonight at Gunn reminded me about the housing development going up at the old Hyatt Rickeys location as well. However, the VTA has never restored any service they have cut, so I don't think I'll be too optimistic in that regard.

The VTA is clearly quite happy to show that it is not really about "public transit", which by definition includes ALL members of the general public, including High School Students (who also work, shop, visit across town, etc.)

Students and student part time workers are members of the public and have valid commute needs just as much full time workers, shoppers, and people visiting senior centers. Students pay for the service like anyone else. We're not talking little "school bus" kids now; some are even old enough to vote. That they should somehow "not count" as members of the general public seems rather arbitrary at the very least.

My children are still in PAUSD schools, but "drive them to school" is not a valid option for my family. For myself and other parents of current students who make frequent use of this bus service for school AND other commuting, this is obviously more of a pressing concern than for those whose children may have already have graduated from the system or otherwise feel no personal impact from the VTA's decision.

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