Can Palo Alto’s parking woes help improve the Caltrain Go Pass program?

The City of Palo Alto is undertaking an ambitious effort to overhaul its downtown parking system. Prompted by a flood of complaints that downtown employees parking for free on neighborhood streets and crowding out locals, Palo Alto decided to take a systematic look at the parking problem. The City is looking at measures including adding new parking structures, using technology to manage existing spaces and price them more efficiently, attended parking to fit more cars in the same space, and transportation demand management (TDM) for the downtown area to encourage the use of alterantives to solo driving.

As part of the TDM investigation discussed at last night’s City Council meeting, Palo Alto is reaching out to Caltrain to see if improvements can be made to Caltrain’s GoPass transit discount program. Friends of Caltrain consider this an excellent idea that would have benefits for employers throughout the corridor.

Currently, the GoPass bulk discount is structured for larger companies, with a minimum payment of $13,500. An improved pricing structure would provide incentives for many more companies and employees to use Caltrain.

Here are some ideas about how to improve the GoPass program. These are from Friends of Caltrain, not from the City of Palo Alto.

There are three main issues with the GoPass program:

1) Employers need to commit to purchase for 100% of employees. This is unrealistic since almost no employers in this area have 100% of employees for whom Caltrain is practical.

2) The program is cost-effective only for large employers since the minimum purchase price is $13,500.

3) The discount rate is so steep that if it is heavily used by large groups is financially bad for Caltrain

Here is an example of an alternative discount pricing program used in Washington State that addresses the first two of these issues.

1) Employers can purchase bulk passes for different tiers of participation starting at 15%

2) Any company with 15 or more employees is eligible for the program. Companies with fewer than 15 employees can participate through approved membership organizations.

As for the third issue, that the steep GoPass discounts hurt Caltrain’s finances, if Caltrain makes the program more flexible as above, it could *increase* the price and still offer a good deal for
employers. At 100% use, the price is only $13.75 per month, a more than 90% discount. But at 33% use, it is $41.25 per month, about 75% discount (and comparable to a Palo Alto monthly parking pass).
Caltrain could offer a tiered discount program similar to the one used in Washington, with higher rates for most buyers.

Two considerations for good results for Palo Alto and other cities.
1) In order to incent employees to take transit instead of driving, it is important for transit to be lower cost than parking.

2) It would be beneficial to allow small-to-mid-sized companies in downtown Palo Alto (and other cities) to buy in to a deeper discount tier by participating in a large group of downtown businesses

By addressing the issues with the GoPass program there may be opportunities for cities, businesses,
and Caltrain to all benefit.

As a rider or employer, what do you think about ways to improve the Go Pass?