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New shuttle grant to expand public transportation within Palo Alto

Art by Hannah Singer

With a $2 million grant from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Palo Alto has announced plans to implement a new on-demand shuttle service in spring 2023 after the previous system was discontinued in 2020.

Transportation manager Sylvia Star-Lack said the new transit service will replace the previous shuttle, which shut down after facing funding challenges and a rise in COVID-19 cases.

“Instead of having a fixed route with regular stops, this (shuttle system) will be more similar to Uber or Lyft where people will open the app and make requests,” Star-Lack said. “For the service, we’ll have nine vehicles in the fleet serving internal Palo Alto trips that will go across the city.”

Star-Lack also said the shuttle will go almost everywhere in the city except for some remote locations like Foothill Park and the Baylands.

“It’s going to stay where most of the development is in town,” she said.

Transportation manager Nathan Baird said many residents felt the impact of losing the previous shuttles.

“I think we’ll broaden (transportation options) to not just bring back the shuttle but bring it back with additional utility,” Baird said. “It’s great that folks will have more options when they’re thinking about (taking) those types of trips.”

Star-Lack said the app’s computer algorithm will group people with similar destinations to optimize the shuttle’s routes. Users will also have the option to request a ride through an app or make a phone call.

“People who are going to either get picked up in (or go to) the same place will generally
be in the same car,” Star-Lack said. “(The computer algorithm) will try to optimize the origins and destinations, kind of like an airport shuttle.”

To maximize efficiency, Star-Lack said riders may have to walk a short distance for some trips, but the shuttle will also provide accommodations.

“There will be an option for people who need (direct) accessibility to have door-to-door services,” Star-Lack said. “We will also have a few vehicles with wheelchair access for folks who need to bring their wheelchairs with them.”

Junior Chista Irani said the new shuttle service will be a better alternative to Uber and Lyft, which she said are expensive.

“The fare for the shuttle makes it a more affordable option for residents,” Irani said. “I think a lot of people will look into this option.”

Star-Lack also said there will be opportunities to designate key destinations based on the most frequent requests such as downtown or the Caltrain station where people can be picked up or dropped off. According to StarLack, this service will benefit a broader range of people due to its low fares.

“High school students will be able to utilize the shuttle and take it to other locations in town,” Star-Lack said. “The fare is $1 for students, $1 for seniors and the full fare is $3.50.”

Another advantage of the shuttles is that some of them will be environmentally friendly.

“A few of them will be plug-in electric or electric hybrid vehicles,” Baird said. “We are also requiring the service provider to provide bike racks on the vehicles.”

And Star-Lack said the service will be particularly beneficial for people who can’t drive.

“Arranging rides for people who can’t drive, who need to go to the doctor or who have an essential need to go to the grocery store will be very helpful,” Star-Lack said. “It’s really important for them.”

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