Today we met with Jessica Manzi and Diana O’Dell from Redwood City Community Development Department and with Wendy Silvani from Palo Alto Transportation Management Association along with our community partner Adina Levin, executive director of Friends of Caltrain.
This meeting constitutes our get-to-know of the major stakeholders who will receive the final deliverables. After today’s meeting we are now able to brainstorm and propose actionable steps to improve both Redwood City and Palo Alto’s downtowns. The ultimate goal that both cities are aiming for in their partnership with our class is to reduce the usage of single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) to commute to and from work and promote more transit use. Obviously with the limited time we have, our involvement is to bring the cities closer to their goal, not to oversee complete shifts in transportation in a matter of two months. Additionally, we note that while the end goal is the same for both cities, Palo Alto is a year ahead than Redwood City in its progress. Palo Alto has already compiled data on commuters’ use of different transportation; Redwood City is more on a nascent stage and only has preliminary survey information. Part of our work is to inform Redwood City on what other data they would need to gather to get them to the next step.
What We Observed and Learned
Over the last week, we studied background information about the people and organizations we will be working with. Adina gave us a document from the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (TMA), which interprets the data from a survey of employees in downtown Palo Alto that was administered last May. The data addresses many variables—workplace size (number of employees), business type (e.g. tech versus restaurant), commute distance, commute mode, commute preferences, home zip code, etc. —and the report examines trends in how those variables affect commute mode and how they might influence an employee’s likelihood of changing from driving to an alternative mode. The Redwood City’s TMA is still in its very early stages, and thus had no data available online, but after our meeting today, Jessica Manzi has emailed us the results of a survey similar to the one administered in Palo Alto.
Redwood City is just beginning the process of developing a TMA, and according to Adina and Wendy, it is currently where Palo Alto was about a year and a half ago. This difference in stage of development means that we are essentially undertaking two separate, though related, projects dictated by what data each city already has and what data they still need. Redwood City is providing us with both summarized and raw data from their survey, which was modeled more or less on Palo Alto’s. Their survey reached fewer employees than Palo Alto’s, with just over 300 responses compared to 1173 response in Palo Alto. However, Redwood City’s downtown workforce is also a good deal smaller than Palo Alto’s, so by percentage, its reach was perhaps half as wide as the Palo Alto survey’s. Additionally, Redwood City focused its survey on city employees and just a few other businesses, whereas Palo Alto’s study aimed for a representative sample of all employees working in the downtown area. These differences will likely inform how we are able to interpret the data and what recommendations we make to Redwood City for further surveys.
Palo Alto, being much further along in establishing their TMA, is not looking for data work so much as the development of a program they could roll out once the TMA is up and running. They are providing us only with summarized data (e.g. the report we read this week), not raw data. One of Palo Alto’s biggest problems with shifting commute mode is the accessibility of discounted fares, and this issue is central to our project. The Go-Pass, Caltrain’s discounted yearly bulk pass, is an inefficient way for businesses to subsidize their employees’ rides because businesses must purchase a pass for every one of their employees, even if they know a subset will not use them. There is also a high minimum purchase, blocking businesses with fewer than 84 employees from taking advantage of the program. The alternative, a monthly pass, is almost as expensive as the yearly Go-Pass, and thus is unaffordable for most small businesses. The Palo Alto TMA is hoping to develop its own subsidy program that would use Clipper Cards instead of Go-Passes. Clipper Cards can be used on a variety of transit types (“all major Bay Area transit systems” according to their website) and can be used to purchase individual fares or passes. The TMA envisions a system that would provide employees of small businesses with a Clipper Card on a monthly basis, for a six-month trial period. After the trial, the employee and his or her employer would ideally recognize the benefits of using an alternative commute mode, and the employer would be willing to subsidize the Clipper from that point on.
Critical Analysis / Moving Forward
Now that we’ve met with Jessica, Wendy, and Diana, we have a better understanding of the roles in this partnership. Jessica, Wendy, and Diana have the greatest specialization of knowledge and fairly clear visions of what they want as the outcome of this project. Adina, having worked with both Redwood City and Palo Alto, has a greater breadth of knowledge though not the depth of the city employees, and she is acting as a liaison to help us navigate the city processes and find links between the two TMA projects. And we, of course, have the least knowledge at all—but will need to very quickly orient ourselves with the data they’ve now given us, so we can get into the field and make their visions into reality.