Now roaming Palo Alto streets: On-demand Teslas | March 10, 2023 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 10, 2023

Now roaming Palo Alto streets: On-demand Teslas

New city shuttle service, Palo Alto Link, is offering free rides for first month of operation

by Grace Doerfler

Palo Alto's new shuttle system, Palo Alto Link, launched its pilot program Tuesday with a small fleet of Teslas moving through the city.

On weekdays between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., residents and visitors to the city can travel with ease within the city's limits through this new on-demand ride service. The shuttle replaces the pre-pandemic Palo Alto Shuttle program, which functioned like a bus route, with a fixed schedule and designated stops.

Now, riders can request transit through the Palo Alto Link app, which has an interface similar to that of Uber and other rideshare apps, or by calling a designated phone number. Each ride costs $3.50, with discounted $1 rides available for students, seniors, disabled and low-income users. The city will also offer weekly and monthly passes for frequent users at $20 and $65, respectively. The passes allow up to four rides a day.

For the first month of operation, until April 7, all rides through the program are free.

Nine cars are now circulating through Palo Alto, including, upon request, vans that are wheelchair-accessible and can accommodate bicycles. According to the city's Palo Alto Link website, pickup locations will usually be within a block of the requester's location; however, people with wheelchairs can be taken from door to door.

I tried out the service on launch day for the Palo Alto Weekly. Downloading the app and setting up a profile is straightforward — users need an email address and a credit card number, or they can give exact change to the driver. Then, it's easy to enter a destination and be matched with a driver. The app offers options for pickup at a few different times so that riders can choose to depart in either five or 15 minutes, for example.

I booked a couple of drives around Palo Alto to experience the shuttle service, hoping I might meet some other passengers along the way. Within minutes of requesting a ride, a sleek, clean car pulled up and I was on my way. Aside from the city logo on the side of the car, it felt no different than commuting via a different ride-hailing app.

The driver, polite and friendly, said he'd had a few other rides that morning along the city's main arteries. There had been some confusion about the shuttle's limits, he said: He had to turn down one rider who wanted to travel to Sunnyvale, which is outside Palo Alto Link's boundaries.

But the nine vehicles on the roads seemed more than adequate to meet demand on day one. After a couple of quiet rides around the city, I asked if I could remain seated in the backseat while the driver responded to other requests. He shrugged. He didn't mind in theory, but there was no one to pick up. In the middle of a Tuesday, few people besides curious reporters seemed to be driving demand for the new shuttle service.

Nathan Baird, the city's transportation manager, who oversees Palo Alto Link, said Palo Alto intends to share data about the ride program on a monthly basis. He said that on the shuttle service's first day, his office fielded calls about how the program works and how residents can start using it. For now, it's too early to say what locations and times of day are most popular among the app's users.

While the shuttle service catches on, I'm thinking that now might be the moment to enjoy an efficient, peaceful and free Tesla ride for my next errand. It's as luxurious as any Uber or Lyft — and quite a bit less expensive.

The Palo Alto Link program will continue on a pilot basis for the next 18 months.

For more information about Palo Alto Link, visit

Email Editorial Intern Grace Doerfler at [email protected]


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2023 at 11:41 am

Bystander is a registered user.

I would be interested to see what happens on a wet school day. Children who normally ride bikes to school are much more likely to want a ride on a wet day. Gunn has a bus service, the bus service to Paly is poor and in the days of the old shuttle, those shuttles were full after school.

I would also be interested to know how far outside City limits this goes. For example, will it take someone to the movies in Mountain View?

Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 8, 2023 at 11:46 am

Rose is a registered user.

Does service include Stanford?

Posted by MidTown Guy
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2023 at 12:06 pm

MidTown Guy is a registered user.

This “new” service reminds me of “Dial-A-Ride” offered by Santa Clara County about 40 or so years ago. Does anyone else remember it? It didn’t succeed but I don’t know why. It offered point-to-point transportation on demand. I would love to see a story on the fate of that experiment!

Posted by jvpadojino
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Mar 8, 2023 at 12:11 pm

jvpadojino is a registered user.

@Rose The shuttle program does not include trips to the Stanford campus, but it does provide service to the Stanford Shopping Center.

Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 8, 2023 at 12:20 pm

Rose is a registered user.

What about the industrial park — HP and all those companies?

Posted by Morgan
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 8, 2023 at 1:02 pm

Morgan is a registered user.

Maybe the city should focus on the basics and then it won't need to charge us so much for utilities. All the money they transfer from the Utilities to the General Fund makes it that much easier for them to carelessly spend money on things that will have little to no impact on the lives of any of the residents.

So yes, let's spend money on free rides in electric cars and someone to look for gas powered leaf blowers. We can just raid the Utilities Fund if we need money to give ourselves a big raise.

Posted by Some Random Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 8, 2023 at 1:25 pm

Some Random Resident is a registered user.

@Rose - it's trivial to search (Google, Bing, whatever) for the answer to the question of which areas are served, which can be found in the map... at Web Link

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2023 at 2:23 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Single occupancy much for reducing local car trips...This is not very useful for school commuting kids.

Looks like it to goes to Stanford Research Park.

What times of day did you experiment with it, Grace? That matters.

Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Mar 8, 2023 at 3:24 pm

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

We've added a map to the story to show the shuttle's service area.

Posted by Jerry
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2023 at 4:08 pm

Jerry is a registered user.

Sounds like a great idea. As long as there's a driver. And the driver is not using Tesla's self-driving mode.

Posted by Edbeards
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 8, 2023 at 5:06 pm

Edbeards is a registered user.

It's really unfortunate that the service area doesn't extend to Stanford Hospitals. One would think that would be very useful for seniors in particular.

Posted by Grace Doerfler
a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2023 at 5:11 pm

Grace Doerfler is a registered user.

Hi @ConsiderYourOptions, good question. I tried this service in the late morning/midday. I'm sure demand will vary as more people learn about it and around peak commuting hours.

Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 8, 2023 at 6:18 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.


I do not see the service going to the Watson Court eye and ear facility.

Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Mar 8, 2023 at 7:15 pm

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

Stephen, the eastern boundary appears to be East Bayshore Road, so Watson Court is included in the service area. Palo Alto Link will take you there.

You can click on this map (link below) and zoom in to see that Embarcadero Road at East Bayshore Road is in the white part of the map.
Web Link

Posted by TerryR
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2023 at 8:50 pm

TerryR is a registered user.

The app doesn't seem to accept a Clipper Card. That seems odd, since other transportation services are converging on using that. Anyone know if that is in the plans?

Posted by fred
a resident of University South
on Mar 8, 2023 at 10:02 pm

fred is a registered user.


The map seems to show the Stanford hospitals in the white area.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 9, 2023 at 7:48 am

Annette is a registered user.

The link is easy to access, and registration is similarly easy. Unfortunately, the service area is not the same as the former shuttle, so my attempt to book a ride was unsuccessful. Instead of a ride I got a message saying that the address I wanted, which is not far from the Baylands, is not in the service area. Hopefully it will be added later. I

Posted by Joel
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 9, 2023 at 3:20 pm

Joel is a registered user.

I am a computer idiot. I could not discover how to access the Palo Alto Link or the Google play store app. Help. I have a IPhone S.

Posted by Tom
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2023 at 8:51 am

Tom is a registered user.

The link is for Google Play. That is for Android phones. For your iPhone, open the App Store app and search for Palo Alto Link.

Posted by fred
a resident of University South
on Mar 10, 2023 at 11:35 am

fred is a registered user.

Our ride yesterday was in a new Toyota Sienna hybrid SUV. Our driver had had only a couple rides before us.

If you have an issue with using the app, you can get service by calling 650-505-5772.

This service will be most beneficial for seniors but they tend to be the slowest adopters, I hope they don’t get crowded out by younger people.

Posted by Joel
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 10, 2023 at 11:50 am

Joel is a registered user.

That was easy. Thanks to Tom and Fred.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 10, 2023 at 11:51 am

Anonymous is a registered user.

I’ve just noticed the city Teslas, they are visible, which is good. It will be interesting to see how this program goes: please review and audit it!
That said, while out driving, I saw a random Tesla this AM (Friday) stopped in the right lane in the middle of a street, randomly, which brings up potential issues with Teslas and SAFETY.
No crash or obvious issue, but vehicle (either an S or 3?) was indeed randomly stopped in right lane.
I just returned to my home after driving various places, so I can’t recall which Palo Alto street this occurred on. It was weird. “Stalled out?”

Posted by fred
a resident of University South
on Mar 10, 2023 at 2:23 pm

fred is a registered user.

Note this from the FAQ regarding pickup and dropoff spots:

We’ll assign you a “virtual bus stop” where you’ll meet the vehicle, usually at a nearby corner or no more than a block away. Check the app for directions and follow your driver’s progress in real-time so you know exactly when to head to your stop.

Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2023 at 8:33 pm

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

As far as I can tell, this is only available via iPhone or Android apps, or by calling a phone number. It would very useful if one could reserve a ride in a web browser on a computer, but the "apps" only seem to be for the two major phone brands.

There also doesn't seem to be a dedicated webpage for the service which has all the information, links, service-area maps, etc. One would think the city would have created such a webpage, which would also include the ability to book a ride without having an Android or Apple phone, but if such a page exists, I can't find it.

Posted by fred
a resident of University South
on Mar 12, 2023 at 12:22 pm

fred is a registered user.


If you search for Palo Alto Link, the web page will come up.

You can also get there from the City’s Office of Transportation.

I think you could say they are in a soft launch. Rides are free to April 7.

Posted by BP curious
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 13, 2023 at 4:21 pm

BP curious is a registered user.

Why are these cars registered in Florida and not California?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 13, 2023 at 7:02 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Well you know Mr. Musk and over the years you've heard him say he won't abide by CA laws about covid at his Fremont factory, how he forced workers sick with covid back to work, how he's refusing to pay rent at his Twitter San Francisco offices, how he's refusing to pay for business services like Amazon cloud service and how he's trying to get out paying all the Twitter workers their severance.

He's also been very outspoken in his disdain for California and the laws here. and his intention to move his HQs in low-tax states to get out of paying California taxes. The same probably applies to the shuttle Teslas registered in Virginia.

I'm so proud of our "leaders" for choosing to work with such an upstanding modest business person. Yo go, guys!

Posted by Tim
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2023 at 9:53 pm

Tim is a registered user.

Bring back the fixed bus routes. There were always people on board when I rode, and no need to use any app.

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