Palo Alto City Council funds traffic reduction with parking fees, democratizing the Stanford playbook to reduce driving

On Tuesday night, Palo Alto Council approved a budget that increases the cost of employee parking permits to a level that is more competitive with nearby cities, and will use $480,000 of the parking revenues to fund the city’s transportation management association programs to reduce solo driving among the 10,000 workers in downtown Palo Alto.

With this decision, Palo Alto has borrowed from Stanford University’s “open source” playbook – a highly successful strategy to use parking funds to pay for transit passes, carpool programs, commute coaching services, and other programs that have successfully reduced driving from over 70% about 15 years ago, to about 50% today, much better than the regional average.

Another element in common with the Stanford playbook is the local government mandate. Stanford turbocharged their programs to reduce solo driving commutes after Santa Clara County mandated that the university generate “no net new trips” even as they added buildings, employees, and on-campus residents.  In Palo Alto, City Council has set a goal of 30% car trip reduction in the downtown area.


Now, the Palo Alto TMA has the opportunity to prove that it can scale up its successful pilot programs providing discount transit passes, carpool, commute coaching, and more.

As Palo Alto takes the next steps to democratize the Stanford model, time will tell whether they borrow another page in the playbook. Stanford has said that by greatly reducing the rate of solo driving, the university has saved about $100,000,000 in parking garages they have not needed to build.  Palo Alto is currently moving forward to build several new parking garages – would success in car trip reduction encourage re-thinking expensive garage construction?

While the parking permit increase is a big leap, the new $730 annual rate for a full-price parking permit in downtown Palo Alto is still well under Stanford’s rate which is slightly above $1000.