Historically, shuttles have maintained a low profile on Palo Alto streets. Since the shuttle program came on board December 1999, it has consisted largely of two routes: the Crosstown Shuttle that provides a north-south connection from Charleston Road to downtown Palo Alto; and the Embarcadero Shuttle, which links the east side of the city with the downtown Caltrain station.
In July, the city introduced a third shuttle: the East Palo Alto route, which is funded entirely by East Palo Alto but managed by Palo Alto and stretches from Woodland Avenue to the downtown Palo Alto Caltrain station.
Now, the city is considering further additions, with the goal of giving drivers new options for getting around town. A new West Shuttle route would stretch from the industrial area around East Meadow Drive in south Palo Alto to El Camino Real and then, along the El Camino corridor to University Avenue.
The West Shuttle would aim to accommodate different sectors, including residents and employees in the mixed-use area around Charleston Road and East Meadow, said Steve Crosley, a consultant with firm Fehr & Peers, which the city earlier this year commissioned to study existing shuttle routes and propose new routes.
"We took a look at routing itself and found it does serve the populations currently not served by the Crosstown shuttle," Crosley said.
If all goes as planned, the West Shuttle could connect to a separate bus line running to the Google campus in Mountain View and would be funded in part by employers in the area.
Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said the West Shuttle route could be set up to have fewer stops during the morning peak, creating an express service.
In addition to suggesting a West Shuttle route, Fehr & Peers also recommended the doubling of shuttles on the Crosstown route between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The Crosstown, which is funded completely by the city, is especially popular. But even though it runs past numerous popular destinations, including the Main Library, Channing House, JLS Middle School and Mitchell Park, the Crosstown shuttles run only once an hour, from 7:40 a.m. to 5:20 p.m.
Fehr & Peers found that the Crosstown route has "consistently moderate" ridership throughout the day, with a peak in the midday period. This suggests that it is "particularly popular amongst seniors or other individuals with midday mobility needs." By doubling frequency between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., service will be increased from every 60 minutes to every 30 minutes.
The firm also found that because ridership is particularly high on the shuttle's first run of the day, "there may be significant latent demand for this service prior to this time." Its report recommends testing additional service starting at 6:30 a.m. It also recommends adding a shuttle bus 10 to 15 minutes before the particularly crowded 7:40 a.m. and 3:05 p.m. runs.
The firm recommended making no changes to the Embarcadero route, which runs every 15 minutes and gets less ridership than the Crosstown shuttles. The Embarcadero shuttle is coordinated around the Caltrain schedule, and much of the ridership consists of commuters.
These recommendations remain tentative and subject to change based on further analysis and the results of a rider survey the city plans to administer in the coming weeks.
The city's Planning & Transportation Commission last week generally looked favorably on the proposed shuttle expansions, with Commissioner Greg Tanaka saying that the West Shuttle "makes a lot of sense" and Vice Chair Arthur Keller urging staff to collaborate with other employers in addition to Google to participate.
Chair Mark Michael encouraged staff to consider routes that serve populations beyond students and commuters.
If the city wants to get people out of cars, it needs to have adequate services in the late night and early morning hours, Michael said.
TALK ABOUT IT
What do you think about the proposed West Shuttle and the expanded Crosstown schedule? Where would you like the shuttle buses to go? Share your opinion on Town Square, the community discussion forum at PaloAltoOnline.com/square.
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