Palo Alto looks to spur Caltrain use among city workers | February 21, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 21, 2014

Palo Alto looks to spur Caltrain use among city workers

Employees would be able to swap parking permits for free Caltrain passes

by Gennady Sheyner

City workers in Palo Alto may soon have a fresh incentive to ditch their cars in favor of mass transit — free Caltrain passes.

The City Council is scheduled to consider on Monday night a staff proposal to participate in a Caltrain Go Pass program, which will allow employees to trade in their parking permits for Caltrain tickets. The nine-month pilot program is part of a broad range of traffic-reducing initiatives on the council's agenda. The list also includes the creation of a "transportation-management authority," a nonprofit that would assess fees from downtown businesses and develop incentives for car-free commuting; an expanded shuttle program; and car-share services at local parking lots.

Under the staff proposal outlined in a report Wednesday, employees who participate in the program would also be allotted two "emergency" parking permits per month. These daily permits would allow workers to park at the Cowper Street garage. Additional permits could then be purchased for $10.

The program is expected to cost the city $63,691, according to the staff report. At the same time, staff expects the city to make about $27,800 in annual revenues from selling the parking permits that were previously provided to employees. The revenues would bring down the program's cost to $35,892, the report states.

If the council approves the staff proposal, Palo Alto would join 22 local companies that currently buy Caltrain passes in bulk and distribute them to their employees, along with Stanford University and Stanford University Medical Center. According to city planners, the university's transit ridership among employees has increased from 8 percent to 28 percent since its participation in the Go Pass Program began.

Now, with parking and traffic issues dominating public agendas and land-use planning identified as one of the council's top priorities for the second straight year, the city hopes to achieve a similar ridership bump. The program's eligibility would be limited to the 466 employees who work downtown. Currently, about 50 of them currently rely on Caltrain for some portion of their commutes, according to staff.

"For Civic Center employees (City Hall, Police Department, Development Center and Downtown Library) who live within a mile of Caltrain stations, the Go Pass Program could provide a viable alternative to solo driving," the report states.

Staff had initially suggested a broader Go Pass program, one that could involve employees at downtown businesses. According to the city, Caltrain staff balked at this proposal, citing an already high number of riders using the University Avenue station and a concern about fairness for companies that already have their own Go Pass program.

The terms of Caltrain's program allow employers to pay a flat rate for Go Pass, which employees can then use to ride the rail line any day of the week. The cost is $165 per eligible employee. Staff estimates that if 123 employees opted into the program, it would become cost neutral because of the revenues from freed-up parking permits.

But costs are not the primary factor in proposing the Caltrain partnership.

"The program demonstrates the city's commitment to a more comprehensive transportation-demand management program, which will reduce burden on existing parking infrastructure and encourage a cleaner, healthier and more livable downtown," the staff report states.


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