Palo Alto reduces downtown service worker drivealone rate by 10 percentage points

The Palo Alto Transportation Management Association has succeeded in reducing the drivealone rate among downtown service workers by ten percentage points over the last year, with a set of pilot programs providing discount transit passes for low-income workers, and subsidies for rideshare services.

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This result was revealed in the TMA’s third annual, random-sample scientific survey of downtown workers.  Earlier surveys had shown that (contrary to common opinion), that employees at downtown tech companies drive alone at a low 30% rate, while lower-income workers drove alone at a much higher rate.  Previous surveys had also shown that employees of larger firms were more likely to receive transportation benefits, and that employees who receive such benefits are less likely to drive alone.

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Based on this information, the TMA crafted pilot programs offering discount transit passes and Uber/Lyft rides for workers in service business and small offices, with successful results.  In this Spring’s budget, the City Council allocated $480,000 to the TMA to expand its programs to further reduce traffic and parking demand.   

The study shows that an additional 47% of service workers and significant shares of government and light office workers would use transit services if they were more affordable, suggesting that expanding the pilot programs is likely to have continued beneficial results. 

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In addition, the study shows that only about 30% of respondents had heard of the TMA and knew enough to share an opinion. This suggests substantial opportunities to market the programs to help reduce driving.

Additional suggestions based on the data – Carshare for errands and smaller bites of parking

The TMA’s data suggests a few additional programs that were not yet highlighted in the report.  The data shows that over 20% of employees report that they drive to work because they need a car for errands or meetings during the day.   Palo Alto currently has ZipCars in four downtown garages and at the Palo Alto Transit Center, and the TMA also currently has a Lyft/Uber subsidy program. The TMA may have an opportunity to market these services, and to offer attractive pricing.

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Of course, this wouldn’t work for an employee whose job entails multiple offsite meetings or pickups and deliveries every day. But for employees who have occasional meetings and errands, these services might enable them to commute without driving alone, and to use the shared car for these tasks.

In addition, the data shows that workers who purchase parking permits are more likely to drive alone. The report draws a conclusion that reducing the number of permits or increasing the price might help reduce driving.   

An additional option would be to offer parking permits in smaller slices.  Once an employee has a parking permit that is good for an entire month, there is little incentive to use other modes.

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A case study in Seattle shows the benefit of charging for parking by the day instead of by the month. At the Gates Foundation in Seattle, 90% of workers drove alone to work before moving into the new downtown headquarters in 2011.  In the new HQ, employees were required to pay for parking, not by the month, as is Palo Alto, but by the day, at a rate of $12 per day.  Transit passes are provided for free, and workers get an additional $3 incentive to choose a mode other than solo driving.  The Seattle Times reports that “A year after the new headquarters opened in 2011, the number was 42 percent. Last year it was 34 percent.”

By offering parking permits in smaller slices – by the day, or perhaps in packs of 5 or 10 days, workers whose schedules were amenable to nondriving part of the time could purchase parking, but still have incentive to make other choices when convenient.

 

A promising start

The results of the new survey provide a promising start for the TMA.  Now that there is funding to expand the programs, and there are encouraging signs that the increased investment will pay off in further reductions in driving, traffic, and parking demand.