City Council OKs new South Palo Alto shuttle route | News | Palo Alto Online |


City Council OKs new South Palo Alto shuttle route

City staff to research dynamic 'fixed-flex' model for Embarcadero and Crosstown routes

Palo Alto's efforts to revitalize its free shuttle program got a major boost late Monday night when the City Council approved the Palo Alto Transit Vision Plan.

The shuttle plan recommended by city staff includes three routes: a new South Palo Alto route that will replicate Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority's Route 88, which is being eliminated, and add some new stops; an expanded Crosstown route that will extend to Stanford and San Antonio shopping centers; and an expanded Embarcadero route that will service East and West Bayshore roads and Fabian Way.

The projected cost to operate the three routes is $1.8 million, including $625,000 per year for the South Palo Alto shuttle.

Currently, the Embarcadero and Crosstown routes cost $553,000 annually to run, according to a city staff report.

The South Palo Alto shuttle could give 156,000 rides, known as "passenger trips," a year, the report states; the extended Crosstown and Embarcadero routes could offer an additional 266,000 and 55,214 passenger trips, respectively.

By an 8-0 vote, with Vice Mayor Liz Kniss absent for the vote, the council's motion on Monday amended the staff's recommendation, directing staff to pursue funding for implementation of the South Palo Alto route and return to extending the Embarcadero and Crosstown routes at a later date.

The council also directed staff to look into a more dynamic "fixed-flex" model for the shuttle system. This model uses technology to modify shuttle routes on the fly; if someone is two blocks away from the standard route, the vehicle would be able to detour off the route, pick the person up and return to the fixed route. The VTA has implemented a pilot program of this model in north San Jose, though results are not yet available. Staff will also update the branding and marketing of the shuttle system in order to increase visibility and encourage ridership.

The plan comes on the heels of the VTA's recently approved transit plan, which calls for increasing the frequency of buses along its primary routes and reducing service to the county's more peripheral areas. In Palo Alto, this would result in the 522 Express bus on El Camino Real running more often and the elimination of the 88 bus, which would be replaced by the 288 and primarily operate during the start and end of Gunn High School's daily schedule.

Mayor Greg Scharff raised concerns about serving the entire Palo Alto population as opposed to the two groups — seniors and students -- who currently compose the shuttle's primary ridership. The staff's recommendation, he said, seemed only to increase serving seniors and students without including other community members.

Councilman Greg Tanaka, however, said the city should focus on improving current services to those particular sectors.

"Maybe instead of having a general shuttle run, you ... have a more focused strategy, a more focused audience and actually excel rather than trying to serve all people," he said.

Vice Mayor Liz Kniss, on the other hand, called the entire plan an "overreach." Though she said she admires the goals of the vision, she doesn't believe it is realistic.

"If your plan is to end up with something that's almost $2 million a year — great idea, but frankly, I don't see where that funding would come from," she said.

The transit vision, the city's Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello said in response, serves more as a line of guidance and asked council members for direct input on how the staff should proceed with revamping the city's shuttle system. The specifics of the plan, he said, are still open to change.

Councilman Cory Wolbach brought up the potential benefits of a dynamic fixed-flex shuttle service, particularly for the seniors in Palo Alto.

"The idea of on-demand or flexible service ... where you either call up a shuttle or ask a shuttle to detour either because of a long-term or short-term disability — I don't see that as something we're necessarily going to do right now, but I want to make sure we're still thinking of how we can really modernize the system," he said.

"I think the goals are the right ones, and that's why I support this," he added. "It gets us going in the right direction."

For an "aging city" like Palo Alto, dynamic routes are key, Councilman Tom DuBois said. He suggested that charging for age-friendly services could be a possible source of funding.

The motion was amended to prioritize funding for the South Palo Alto route and developing a dynamic fixed-flex model.

Community members Immanuel Cherkas, Myra Cohen and Judy Lerner — all residents of senior community Moldaw Residences on East Charleston Road — spoke at the meeting and asked the council and staff to add bus stops at the intersection of Fabian and East Charleston as well as at the corner of San Antonio and East Charleston roads.

"We are very fortunate in Moldaw that we're provided transportation to doctors' offices, to dentists, but we can't have transportation for example to a bank, to a cleaner, to an alteration place," said 91-year-old Cohen, who has macular degeneration and vision loss. "Having a bus would alleviate so many of our concerns."

The transportation manager of Avenidas, a nonprofit that provides resources and programs for the aging, also encouraged the city to add a stop outside of Cubberley Community Center. Jyllian Halliburton said that the stop at the intersection of Charleston and Middlefield roads -- a block away from Cubberley and adjacent to a shopping center -- feels unsafe to people in their 80s "because people usually drive pretty fast."

Mello said in an interview later that staff will be considering the public comments made at the meeting as well as input from the council. The staff will try to secure funding from outside sources such as regional grants and Measure B, a Santa Clara County sales tax approved by voters last year that invests in projects enhancing transportation.

"I was glad to see we were able to get direction on where to move," he said of the council meeting. "The goal would be to bring that program to its full potential."

The development of a dynamic fixed-flex shuttle model, will incorporate the needs of seniors who are not technology-savvy or lack access to technology, Mello said.

"We may ultimately need to develop our own innovative solutions that's a mix of a high-tech dynamic-type service and a more traditional fixed-type service," he said.


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6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2017 at 9:48 am

There is at last some improvement in the discussions surrounding this. Getting southern students to Paly is a great way to get more use from our shuttles and I see the school extension as a great boost to the service.

Personally, I think the aim should be to get regular riders who have regular routines on a daily or weekly basis. Commuters and students fall into this category.

Seniors have more time, but often not flexibility or regular patterns. Unless they have an appointment at the same time each week, I can't see them being able to make appointments around a one hour service very easily unless they are willing to wait 50 minutes or so before and after their appointment. Seniors would benefit from the whistle stop type of service where a route may be able to detour a block for their convenience but they are the group less likely to be able to manage a smart phone app to arrange the route alteration. There is also the inconvenience to other users who may not like missing their Caltrain, being late for class or a medical appointment, so I would be overall wary of a service that is offered.

A schedule is important to get riders and it has to be dependable as well as efficient if it is going to be used en masse.

Overall though, this appears to be a small step in the right direction. I like the idea of deciding to improve a service for those who actually use the service rather than trying to reach the broad community as a whole. That can be looked at later along with dedicated shuttles at the freeway ramps to get commuters the last mile to their jobs.

13 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 16, 2017 at 9:59 am

Before spending more money on these shuttles, I'd like to see some ridership numbers because I rarely see any passengers on the shuttles.

Before expanding to serve the entire city, how about serving as school shuttles? School traffic is highly predictable and parking near the schools is increasingly problematic with RPP spillover

Also, Hays Elementary (Middlefield & Embarcadero) is due to lose 85 parking spaces to accommodate the expanded Children's Zoo. Where are those parents supposed to go? Do our various city departments ever coordinate "plans" with each other??

17 people like this
Posted by Gunn Students
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 16, 2017 at 11:26 am

"Southern" students don't go to Paly, they go to Gunn. With the VTA 88 line going away, Gunn students desperately need an alternative for getting to school, especially in wet and/or cold weather. Bravo to the City Council for taking this step! Please keep the Gunn kids as a high priority for shuttle service!

3 people like this
Posted by Developers rule again
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 16, 2017 at 12:28 pm

>Hays Elementary (Middlefield & Embarcadero) is due to lose 85 parking spaces to accommodate the expanded Children's Zoo.

What's that again????

5 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Not only will the expanded Children's Zoo start charging a "nominal fee" of $10 per adult and $5 per kid, but it will also result in a permanent reduction in 85 parking spaces in a location where it is frequently very difficult to find a parking spot due to the numerous community buildings (library, arts center, children's museum, children's library nearby, Lucie Stern theatre etc etc). Why this is considered a worthwhile use of the city's money, even though most is paid for a donation, is beyond me. Let's hear it for the 1% for whom $20 for an after school visit and using uber for transportation is a minimal expense. I really don't expect Mom's to start taking their kids to Mommy and me classes on the Palo Alto shuttle, etc. etc.

4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 16, 2017 at 12:58 pm

@Developers Rule, the big parking lot just north of the present Children's Zoo off of Middlefield and N of Embarcadero is getting eliminated. The city asked for comments from nearby residents a few months back.

I'm still digging around from where I saw all the details on the parking lot but here's some views of the expansion plans Web Link

In the interim, if someone else has the parking lot plans, please post them.

2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 16, 2017 at 1:15 pm

Here's the city's plan which has a section on Parking Lot Redesign; it which doesn't explicitly say the 85 parking spaces would be eliminated. (An alert neighbor discovered this by analyzing the proposed design).

Web Link

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2017 at 1:18 pm

Gunn Student, you are wrong about southern students all going to Gunn. The boundary is Loma Verde east of Middlefield. Therefore anyone living on the north side of Loma Verde, those near Seale Park, Greer Park, the townhomes on Loma Verde/Bayshore, are all within the Paly boundary and they would benefit from a shuttle on Louis to get to school.

8 people like this
Posted by Sw
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2017 at 1:27 pm

Southern students between Loma Verde and Oregon Expressway go to Paly, and there are currently no busses or shuttles that can get them there easily. The school extension line will be especially helpful during rainy days when the weather makes biking unpleasant. It takes my kids 15 minutes to bike to Paly, which means on heavy rain days, they are either soaked when they get there or I have to drive them. I gave them a lot of rides last year and would have preferred them to take a bus like the Gunn kids can do. I also had to drive my kids when they had injuries that prevented them from biking, Having a shuttle would have helped then too.

14 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2017 at 1:35 pm

We don't have kids, but we do see that a traffic around schools in the morning is terrible. Any effort by the city to get those kids out of private cars is much appreciated by us. This includes busses, bike lanes, more responsive pedestrian crossing signals, etc.

Regarding getting working adults out of cars and onto these busses, the easiest way to do that is make the busses run all day long and more frequently. Also, make the routes go through residential neighborhoods, not just main streets that take a while for people to walk to. There used to be a VTA bus route along Waverley Street. How about replacing that with an all-day city shuttle bus? The bus stops with benches still exist along Waverley Street.

2 people like this
Posted by Gear up for rainy day school commutes!
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 16, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Gear up for rainy day school commutes! is a registered user.

Dear Sw,

I grew up on the east coast. Walked to 1 1/2 miles each way to school in snow and rain. Mom provided boots and ponchos. My backpack fit under the poncho. I arrived nice and dry.

Rainy day commutes can be fun with kids. They love puddle stomping. The world is a different experience in the rain for kids. Try enjoying it.

Other options...Set up a rainy day carpool if you must drive when it rains. Set up a text group of neighbors/friends who are willing to share the ride. You'll be ready to carpool when the clouds burst.

With a little planning, we can all use our cars less for short, local trips. We hate congestion and our planet is suffering from the carbon we burn. Let's leave our children a healthy planet. They will remember the transportation choices we are making today. They will wonder why we were so careless with fossil fuels.

4 people like this
Posted by Concerned for the Seniors
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 16, 2017 at 3:49 pm

I think the point about serving the Seniors and the Students made by Councilman Greg Tanaka right on target;Seniors and Students...both populations that have a higher percentage of non-drivers should be factored in to the plan.There are seniors I know presently who probably should not be driving but with out alternatives they will drive and put the rest of us at risk. We will see an increase in age related driving accidents. Making Palo Alto more age-friendly should be a major concern given our growth in the aging population.

2 people like this
Posted by Marj
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Aug 16, 2017 at 5:53 pm

Yes, the JMZ is going to get a new building. The parking will not go away. It is not the JMZ or the City of Palo Alto's responsibility to accommodate parking of teachers or the families who pick up students. PAUSD should come up with a plan to help the schools find parking for their employees. Try parking on Middlefield Rd. or Hopkins first. Giant fields that are rarely used could be turned into staff & pick up parking for the parents. Most of the teachers take the prime spots in the parking lot in front of the museum so guests with children cannot park there but have to cross Middlefield Rd. with toddlers and that is totally unsafe. Let's all stop being so selfish.

2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 16, 2017 at 10:06 pm

@Marj, people are calling for student shuttle service for good reasons -- that the area is already jammed before the 85 parking spots disappear. That would be a useful plan for PAUSD and/or the city and maybe you could start lobbying for some action on it.

In the interim, do you think parents are NOT already parking on Middlefield and Hopkins and trying to cross the dangerous Embarcadero/Middlefield intersection? And all of the other nearby streets? Why do you think there are all the signs opposing Casti's expansion? Why do you think there's such an outcry about the 11-bedroom underparked home at Embarcadero and Newell?

Are you suggesting that PA pave over the rest of Rinconada Park for the teachers and parents? There's already spillover parking in our neighborhoods from Casti and from the commuters trying to save money on parking permits.

Please start lobbying and report back.

9 people like this
Posted by Carmela
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 17, 2017 at 6:45 am

I am amazed that zoo expansion was approved with little focus on the increased traffic it willl bring and the parking challenges in an already conjested area. Why does everything have to get bigger???

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2017 at 9:26 am

I was very against the zoo expansion.

It is altering what was a charming local after school activity my family did on an almost weekly basis as part of our trip to the Children's Library, into a destination for school trips and families from miles away. With these types of prices, I can't see many families visiting weekly as my family did. What a shame for families as another local amenity is changed beyond recognition.

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