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Fueled by early success, Palo Alto TMA eyes expansion

Nonprofit looks to launch California Avenue program next month

Having steered more than 230 downtown Palo Alto workers away from cars and toward other forms of transit, the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (TMA) is now preparing to bring its traffic-fighting efforts to California Avenue.

Outreach kicked off on Wednesday afternoon, when TMA leaders stopped by the monthly meeting of the California Avenue Business Association to pitch the program to area merchants and describe the evolution of the TMA since its formation in 2015.

The organization, which the city launched in a bid to reduce the number of commuters driving solo, reached several key milestones in 2018: It achieved status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, raised more than $240,000 in private funding for organizational development and hired in June a new executive director, Steve Raney.

Its most notable accomplishment, however, has been the significant boost in the number of transit subsidies its provided to downtown employees, particularly those in the service industry. The percentage of downtown workers who use alternative transit went up from 18 percent in 2015 to 27 percent in 2018, according to the city, while the percentage of employees who drive alone to work has slipped from 57 percent to 49 percent.

The Palo Alto TMA's flagship program — transit subsidies — saw a surge in demand in the latter half of 2018, according to Rob George, chair of the TMA board of directors, who provided an update to the City Council on Monday. In August, 117 downtown employees went to the TMA to get their Clipper cards filled. After that, the number climbed steadily every month, reaching 237 in December, according to the TMA's annual report, which was released earlier this month.

One reason for the growth is the TMA's decision to slightly relax the maximum-income limit, raising it from $50,000 to $70,000. This allowed the program to add several middle-managers to the ranks of service workers who signed up for transit assistance. These managers, in turn, were able to spread the word to their teams about the TMA, prompting other employees to join.

"We picked up some folks to rally their teams to come to the TMA and get transit passes," George told the City Council.

In downtown, the list of participating businesses has been growing and now includes major hotels, restaurants and retailers big and small, with the Sheraton hotel and the Apple store currently leading the way with 29 and 17 participants, respectively, according to the TMA report.

In addition to subsidizing transit passes, the TMA also offers commuters "after hours" discounts for Lyft rides before 6 a.m. and after 8 p.m., times when transit options might be limited. It offers $10 discounts to participating employees for such trips, with a limit of 14 trips per month. Slightly more than 100 daily commuters who used to drive alone now use these car-share programs, the report states.

To spread the gospel of alternative commute options, the association has gone door-to-door to explain its services. So far, it's reached out to 300 businesses, the TMA report states.

To date, the association has been funded largely by the city, which last year used $480,000 from its downtown parking revenues to support the association's work. More recently, it has also benefited from private contributions from area organizations and foundations, which have totaled $240,000.

This includes $100,000 total from Facebook and Palantir Technology — money that will be used to launch California Avenue's new program. In February, TMA officials will be visiting businesses to talk about their offerings. The goal is to have the new program up and running in early March, said Justine Burt, a consultant with the TMA who has been signing up downtown's participants.

Burt told merchants at the California Avenue meeting Wednesday that half of the downtown employees who drive alone have indicated that transit is not an option for them. In some cases, they need their cars to make deliveries; in others, they need them to pick up their children from school or get to their next job.

The TMA is trying to target the other half, for whom transit could be a viable option, Burt told the merchants — particularly, those who live near El Camino Real and other major corridors. The initial goal, she said, is to just get the employees to try alternative transit.

"A lot the people I'd talked to in helping them figure out what transit mode they should take, once they try it — even if they can try it for a month, they can then say, 'Does this make sense for me? Is there a benefit?' Then they might continue," Burt said.

One hopeful sign for the program's future is the availability of future funding from private sources.

"There are potential additional funders waiting in the wing to see, 'Does anyone actually take transit? Do you have people signing up?' As we've had each level of success, more funding has come in."

The TMA's chief benefactor, the city of Palo Alto, has also been generally pleased with the early results. During the Monday study session, council members lauded the program and suggested other ways in which the TMA can help the city address its much-maligned traffic challenges.

Councilman Tom DuBois suggested subsidizing parking permits for employees who regularly carpool, while Councilwoman Alison Cormack suggested that the city "lead by example a little bit more" by increasing city employees' involvement in the TMA.

Council members also broadly supported the TMA's new focus on California Avenue, where the city is preparing to break ground on a new 636-space garage to address the area's chronic parking shortages. Vice Mayor Adrian Fine lauded the TMA's "good progress" and said he is willing to continue supporting it. When Fine asked whether the California Avenue programs will largely mirror those downtown, George said they would initially, though the TMA would change programs based on demand.

George said that in his initial discussions with area merchants, he has already sensed great enthusiasm.

"This is excitement we didn't see in the early months at all in downtown, when we had someone walking through the door and talking about it," George said.

That said, the TMA is also mindful of its own limitations. Both Raney and Burt are part-time employees, and the board of directors is composed of volunteers, including employees from Palantir, Google, IDEO and the city of Palo Alto. (George, as the representative of small businesses, is a former Philz manager who now works for the restaurant Lemonade).

There are also more systemic challenges: those who cannot take transit because of their schedules and those who simply like to drive.

"Whether you're a poor kid working as a server or a guy who works at a tech company, you love your car," George said on Monday. "It may be the one bit of quiet time you get all day. That's something that will take us generations to solve, probably."

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Comments

14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2019 at 8:41 am

Cal Ave needs some 30 minute (or less) parking spots. Too many people have to circle to find somewhere to park just so that they can pick up or drop off something quickly.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 18, 2019 at 2:05 pm

30 minute (or less) parking spots are great for drivers needing to use their cell phone.


44 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2019 at 6:35 pm

Hmmm...

Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (TMA) has raised:

$100,000 from facebook, Paliantir etc.
$240,000 from private contributions.
$480,000 from City of Palo Alto.

and so far has "steered more than 230 downtown Palo Alto workers away from cars and toward other forms of transit".

If my math is correct that is over $3,500 per person over all and an over $2,000 per person contribution from the City of Palo Alto alone.

How much more of our money is the City willing to spend to keep the mad orgy of development going? How more of our money is the City willing to spend so developers can continue to launder ill gotten gains through Palo Alto real-estate?


10 people like this
Posted by People not parking
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2019 at 9:50 am

Thank you PATMA! We all benefit when people find other ways to get to work.

It is great to know your programs are making some headway. I'd love to see them extend to workers in Midtown and other places around town.

$2k per person to switch from driving sure makes a whole lot more sense than $60k per parking spot for building a new garage in downtown Palo Alto!


30 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 19, 2019 at 10:58 am

The data presented tells us that a lower percentage is driving and a higher percentage is using alternative transportation.

Sounds good, but percentages present a very incomplete picture of the situation.

If the population of workers is increasing, better percentages could still mean the raw number of solo drivers is growing.

Additionally, because the maps and capacity of alternative transportation are not growing in any meaningful way, we may soon reach a hard limit on separating drivers from their cars.

More data and better analysis is needed to truly understand TMA effectiveness.


4 people like this
Posted by Mora
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2019 at 11:03 am

Congratulations to the Palo Alto TMA program for coming up with a thoughtful, flexible, inclusive program for the workers at the lower end of the payscale that commute into Palo Alto to keep our businesses going. As a member of the California Ave Area Business Association, I'm thankful to the funders who have offered to pilot the extension to the CalAve area. It would be wonderful to build on the success of the downtown.

In light of articles like this one (Web Link) it is clear that the workers who use public transport are getting squeezed out of options to come commute to work. Raising awareness and increasing the use of public transport is a win win for all!


27 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2019 at 11:09 am

It seems to me that the TMA is concentrating on people coming into Palo Alto without giving any consideration to those who already live here.

Is anything being done to help those who live here get to their jobs elsewhere?

Is anything being done to help improve students getting to school by bus or shuttle. The fact that so many go by bike is great, but there is still a great deal of traffic around schools. Can TMA work with the school district to improve traffic flow around schools at school commute times by improving bus and shuttles?

Is anything being done to coordinate shuttles with Mountain View and cross borders into Mountain View and Menlo Park? We are not an island and many of us cross into neighboring cities and county just to live our lives.

I agree that until we get better and more efficient public transport then we are not going to are not going to get more commuters on already full modes of transport. Increasing capacity and improving service are the next things that have to be done to make a difference.


3 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 19, 2019 at 11:23 am

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

It is good to see another yearly report about Palo Alto TMA. I am a supporter and have attended almost all of the Board Meetings.

I am optimistic about the future of the TMA…cautiously optimistic for a high risk, high return venture tackling real problems. Here are the hurdles ahead.

1. Scale, more than California Av….Menlo Park and/or EPA?
2. Strong “venture” governance. A small city TMA is a heavier lift than other city endeavors such as the zoo and children theater
3. Internal management flexing its costs and responding to scaling opportunities
4. Oversight from our new city manager, some but not too much
5. City audit within the next year addressing the difficult to measure outcome metrics.

For example, how many non-resident permitted vehicles have been eliminated in residential neighborhoods adjacent to Calif and Univ Ave commercial cores?


7 people like this
Posted by Ahem Ahem
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jan 19, 2019 at 11:26 am

@Ahem thank you for posting to contributions, but I believe the City of Palo Alto contributions totals around $680,000.


12 people like this
Posted by Downtown Grandma
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 19, 2019 at 4:45 pm

Hooray for the TMA!

For all the naysayers on this thread - you're the ones complaining about traffic and here's a viable solution for getting workers out of their cars so YOU won't be stuck in traffic. Stop complaining and start offering solutions. Stopping businesses from coming to PA is not a solution. Who's going to stock the shelves at the stores, bus the tables at your favorite restaurants and wash the dishes, clean up the offices, restaurants and stores, prepare your food and clean the bathrooms at the hotels, wipe your bottoms when you need hospice care (Pathways has stopped in-home care b/c it's too expensive to live her and they can't find staff)?

I think the PATMA is a great effort at seeing if it's viable (and so far it seems that it is). We all need to stop thinking that a car-centric way of life is the only one. I heard someone at the City Council meeting complaining that it took her OVER 20 MINUTES to go a mile to her dentist office 1 mile away!!! Did she ever think that of walking that 1 mile? or taking her bike? The entitlement of folks in Palo Alto is a but much. At least the PATMA is trying!


4 people like this
Posted by Don McDougall
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 19, 2019 at 7:22 pm

The progress of the TMA should be applauded and supported. An earlier comment mentioned this is a heavy lift and I agree. Removing cars from our streets has proven difficult and this is a nonprofit taking in the challenge. I wish the TMA success on California avenue and look forward to further expansion of their efforts.


14 people like this
Posted by Nadia Naik
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2019 at 4:24 pm

Nadia Naik is a registered user.

The TMA is off to a good start.

If the TMA is doing all this outreach and gathering info about employers as they deliver their programs, then that data can be used to help make the City's Business Registry more accurate - which is needed to understand how many employers/employees are in the area.

We should continue to support the TMA as a part of the solution.


25 people like this
Posted by Corporate speak
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2019 at 10:34 pm

Maybe I'm off base, but I couldn't follow the speaker. It sounded like corporate-speak with little content, naming _lots_ of companies and programs - for the future.
I couldn't hear anything they have actually done, but he was "excited" dozens of times about what they were going to do in the future.
But one thing was clear, he wants more money.

That we don't have a business registry is ludicrous and incompetent, as though it is difficult to create one.


36 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2019 at 1:16 pm

The problem with the TMA is it is just a distraction in the real-estate industry's ongoing campaign to keep the mad orgy of development going at any cost.

People like to hold themselves up as shining lights of virtue while bailing out Palo Alto's transportation problems with a teacup, but while everyone is bedazzled by the glory of the light, developers are filling it all back up with a fire-hose.


11 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2019 at 2:27 pm

Rose is a registered user.

It's good news that they are working on reducing traffic through incentives to use public transportation. Two things that would help enormously: (1) Put a decent waiting room at the Millbrae station. When transferring between BART and Caltrain there can be a wait of almost one hour if it's early morning or in the evening. No one wants to go to the ballet in San Francisco and then wait in the blowing cold air in the Millbrae station for 45-50 minutes. I drive to Millbrae and then take BART. I should be able to use public transit all the way and back from Palo Alto. (2) We need more trains in the early hours and in the evenings. On weekdays, while tying to be good and not drive, there is a train at 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, 10:430 and then 12:05 leaving San Francisco. One train per hour -- that's ridiculous. The wait between trains at night on weekends is one hour and fifteen minutes. Sorry -- no one who owns a car is going to be willing to do that.


6 people like this
Posted by billhilton@mac.com
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2019 at 2:51 pm

George, we don't have "generations" to solve the climate crisis. A more useful comment suggest other ways than driving alone in an automobile to experience and enjoy quiet time.


14 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 23, 2019 at 12:17 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I’d rather tax the big business here, and the real estate developers and hire smart and sincere staff to manage the problem rather than the so-called non profit which to me means privatization of a self governance problem and an unnecessary complication and bureaucracy.

Two hundred thirty five reported car poolers seems like a small sample set.



Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 23, 2019 at 12:36 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Blink 182 is a rock band from San Diego who has sold 20 million records. On their first Bay Area tour, I hired them to play the former Cubberley cafeteria on Earth Day, April 1997, for 150 fans, 20 of whom rode their bikes and per advertised got in 2-for-1 or half price.
How about we hire them back, to play Mitchell Park outdoors, and make it free to Palo Altans who walk to the event and $100 (plus another $100 based on the value of their car, ie progressively and sliding scale) for those who drive to the event.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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