Last month, Mountain View’s Environmental Planning Commission advanced a four-story 160 unit apartment building, with 4,400 feet of retail space, at 1984 El Camino Real West at the location of a current motel. In accordance with Mountain View’s new policies for buildings in locations with good transit access, the development will offer $25 per month on residents’ Clipper cards for the first year of a resident’s lease, plus free VTA EcoPasses for the first 10 years of the building’s operation.
The Commission wrestled for over 45 minutes trying to come to grips with why the development would offer both a Clipper benefit, which can be used on Caltrain, VTA and other area transit services, plus a VTA EcoPass. Commissioners speculated that the tenants of the market-rate units (there will also be seven below-market units) will be unlikely to use the bus, and proposed consolidating to an all-Clipper benefit. The Commissioners also considered the amount of the benefit paid by the developer, but didn’t consider the discount to the end user, since the Clipper benefit is provided as cash to buy retail or monthly discount service, whereas the VTA EcoPass provides a deep discount for the bus and light rail.
Despite the commissioners’ discomfort with the complexity of the transit benefit, they eventually approved the transit benefit as proposed, for reasons related to Mountain View’s approval schedule for the project. Mountain View will do a more thorough review of its residential transportation benefit policies in the development of its El Camino Real Precise Plan, which is under development.
The transit passes are part of a set of transportation benefits offered to residents: the El Camino development also provides 160 bicycle parking spaces, 16 guest and 10 retail spaces, as required by Mountain View city code, and two car sharing vehicles onsite. The developer is also making the site much more pedestrian friendly, by building a pedestrian path through the site from Latham to El Camino.
Mountain View, and other Caltrain corridor cities, are making gradual progress toward evening out the incentives for driving and alternatives to driving. This development provides one free parking space per apartment bedroom, a benefit that is worth hundreds of dollars per month if residents needed to pay for the space.
The discussion raised a fundamental issue with the Bay Area’s fragmented transit services. Currently, employers and residential developers wanting to provide transit benefits need to make a decision about which agencies their constituents happen to use. One place might have users who take Caltrain, BART, VTA, SamTrans, Muni, and AC Transit. Providing transit passes requires navigating a tangle of different benefits and price structures.
For our region to encourage greenhouse gas reducing alternatives, instead of encouraging driving as we do today, would it be possible to consolidate transit benefit prices and offers?