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Palo Alto prepares to enter 'microtransit' arena with on-demand shuttles

Original post made on Nov 17, 2021

When city officials launched into steep budget cuts last year, public shuttles were among the first things to depart. Now, the city is planning a new shuttle program that will bear little resemblance to one left behind.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 17, 2021, 12:04 PM

Comments (13)

Posted by Online Name's mom
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 17, 2021 at 4:08 pm

Online Name's mom is a registered user.

It's good to see the City replacing the shuttle with SOMETHING, but I would rather the new program go back to the old pathway, with reenforced and more regular stops. I skeptical this microtransit program is going to be regular, timely, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective, in the way that you could make a shuttle line. Plus, if you talked with the shuttle drivers, the low ridership on the shuttle was due to a lack of retaining and hiring drivers, leading to very irregular and unreliable shuttle stops-- and this was all BEFORE the pandemic.

This just seems like a poor, unsustainable solution. Yet, I still hope it somehow works out.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2021 at 4:31 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

My problem with this shuttle idea is that they show no ability to cross boundaries into our neighboring cities. What if someone wants to get to Target, or Costco or the movie theater, or someone from Mountain View wants to get to PAMF or someone from Menlo wants to get to T & C, or, or, or.

On demand shuttles sounds wonderful, but we do not spend all our time in Palo Alto. We are much more likely to want to go less than 5 miles but often the final destination is out of Palo Alto. Should this limit our ability to use a local shuttle?

Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2021 at 8:26 pm

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

The Council cut the free shuttle program in 2020 because of a supposed lack of funds due to the coronavirus crisis. Yet now the City can afford to spend the exact same amount of money, $500,000, on transit services, but rather than restore the free shuttle service, it funds an "on demand" fee-based shuttle?

The City's hypocrisy, of course, is exceeded by the hypocrisy and snobbery of VTA, which was unwilling to help fund the free shuttle, but is now willing to give Palo Alto a $2 million grant because this project is sufficiently "innovative" enough for them to deign to assist.

VTA made sure that Measure B would do little to fund the buses which form the backbone of the public transit which VTA provides to Santa Clara County, but would instead funnel money to the unfinished San Jose BART line and provide some money to "innovative" transit, even as VTA continually moaned (years before the pandemic) that they had an ongoing fiscal emergency and had no choice but to cut lots of local bus service to balance their budget.

But if a service is sufficiently "innovative", then suddenly VTA has millions to spend on it. In this case, part of the "innovation" appears to be that the service will only serve those with smartphones, never mind that many of the seniors and other people who rely on public transit don't necessarily own or are comfortable making transactions on cell phones. And just how many shuttles and drivers will the City have to hire to be certain that a shuttle will always be there when someone places an order on their phone?

Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2021 at 8:39 pm

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

By the way, has the City said what hours the on-demand service will be available? One of the weaknesses of the free shuttle was that it didn't run at night, and VTA has also cut a lot of night service over the last few years--telling people that this will help solve "last mile" issues getting to and from public transit won't help much if the service doesn't run late enough to get people back to their homes after they go out.

Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Nov 17, 2021 at 9:26 pm

chris is a registered user.

The 21 bus goes to San Antonio so this request shuttle should connect with the 21.

If they had spent $2M on the shuttle, they could have had a decent shuttle. This new plan is extremely cost inefficient. They could probably provide discounted Lyft rides for less.

Posted by Since_1978
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 17, 2021 at 9:34 pm

Since_1978 is a registered user.

Why not let Lyft and Uber provide these services? Why should the City use taxpayer funds to gift this service? If someone doesn't own a car, they can use the money they save to pay for their own transit. Cash welfare is a more efficient way to handle the most needy, and to address the effective marginal tax problem (a small increase in earnings might disqualify you for this benefit). $2 million should pay for 100,000 rides... It doesn't add up. This is just an incredible waste.

Posted by
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2021 at 3:00 am is a registered user.

This is a dumb idea and will be super inefficient. Moreover, the senior citizens will never be able to figure out how to use the app.

Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 18, 2021 at 3:58 pm

mjh is a registered user.

If the routes are not regular, how practical will it be to book the return trip after I have finished my shopping/errand(s) and ready to go home? That is without a long walk or waiting in the rain or heat if I'm not physically able to stand for long?

Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2021 at 4:39 pm

Donald is a registered user.

Uber and Lyft are not suitable alternatives. Not only do they not treat their drivers well, they are generally very bad drivers in a hurry to make another dollar and are not accountable or responsive to the public. I once had a PA shuttle driver cut me off when I was on my bike. I called the city and described him and the person I talked to knew exactly who it was. They had a chat with him and I never had a problem with him again. There is something to be said for having a small set of professional drivers operating your shuttles.

Posted by Cat Mom Leonorilda
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 18, 2021 at 7:42 pm

Cat Mom Leonorilda is a registered user.

Not everyone uses phone apps, especially many seniors who will need this service. Isn't there a more inclusive way that the city could offer that would not discriminate against non-app users?

Posted by Keri
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 19, 2021 at 3:56 am

Keri is a registered user.

Southwest Palo Alto (west of El Camino, south of Page Mill) and South Palo Alto were not served by the previous shuttle service. Hoping this new service will accommodate us residents in those areas.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2021 at 4:06 am

Resident is a registered user.

Cars are fine, stop overpopulating the area.
They never give up with the War on Cars

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 23, 2021 at 10:48 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

As others have said above, this should be outsourced to Lyft/Uber, perhaps by subsidizing certain rides, or more likely by providing a real-person telephone operator-based interface to Lyft/Uber. Such systems already exist, where one calls a service, and the service sets up the Lyft/Uber ride for a person without a smartphone (sometimes even without a cell phone as well). The City could limit the geographical area of rides it facilitates if necessary.

A big advantage of such a system is that it would be easy and inexpensive to set up a pilot operation (with a limited number of phone operators) to see how well it worked in real life, and whether or not the demand was there. The ride services do now have categories of drivers trained to provide more time and assistance entering and exiting vehicles, so those with mobility difficulties could also be accommodated.

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