Mountain View Voice

Opinion - November 9, 2012

The shuttle conundrum

It is a vision that transportation planners and city officials would love to see: people bound for the movies, a concert or Shoreline Park sharing publicly-accessible shuttles that also serve such companies as Google and LinkedIn, who come from all over the Peninsula to Mountain View's busy downtown train station.

But there is a challenge to this scenario from a surprising source: Google itself. Yes, like many large tech companies, Google operates its own shuttle, paying for direct bus service for its workers who live in San Francisco and other Peninsula locations, directly to the Google campus. Consequently, even though Google's shuttles sit idle during much of the day, City Council members say the company apparently is not interested in partnering with the city to share its shuttles with the public by linking Caltrain and light rail to the job-rich North Bayshore area. This vibrant neighborhood also is home to the city's movie theaters, the massive regional Shoreline Park which includes a golf course and Shoreline Amphitheatre, a major concert venue.

As the city looks to develop this area without adding to already terrible traffic in and out of the isolated North Bayshore, council members are looking to Stanford University as a success story. It has managed to cap traffic at 1989 levels by making it exceedingly difficult to park on campus, and by providing Clipper cards that can be used on multiple modes of transit all over the region, including Caltrain.

But a major factor in convincing Stanford employees to leave their single-occupancy vehicles at home is the university's free Marguerite shuttle, which picks up riders at the Caltrain depot and circulates around the campus and to selected stops in nearby Menlo Park and Palo Alto. Although costly, the Marguerite proves that coupled with a range of disincentives to drive, employees will get out of their cars and onto a train or bus.

Mountain View could do the same, but the cost isn't something the city could bear alone. Council member Jac Siegel estimates that for $1 million a year, three shuttle buses could circulate between downtown, North Bayshore and San Antonio Shopping Center every 15 to 20 minutes.

It is early in the process, but with the county's VTA routes shrinking, local residents who need a short ride in their neighborhood or to destinations farther away are finding there are no options. A public/private partnership with Google and other North Bayshore companies could increase employee morale while decreasing traffic congestion at the primary access points for the Shoreline area. We hope companies will partner with the city to test a shuttle program. It could be the start of a much easier commute for many employees who every work day must fight the traffic gridlock that grips North Bayshore during the morning and evening commute.

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