Our milestone these past two week was completing the Scope of Work for our project. We presented to Deland and our fellow students in class on Wednesday, and received feedback on a few things to consider or change (e.g. thinking about commute times and not just distances, since many service workers don’t work a 9-5 schedule). We will also need to think critically about PATMA’s assumptions, specifically, regarding the potential of their proposed subsidy program (i.e the Clipper-card program) to actually help low-income workers. We had our second meeting with Adina Levin (from Friends of Caltrain) on Friday the 29th, and reviewed the Scope of Work with her. With the completion of our Scope of Work, our group agreed upon a timeline for work going forward, and also clarified what questions we will address with our projects. Some of those questions, particularly the ones guiding the Redwood City portion of the project, are likely to be somewhat fluid. They may change as we continue to feel out the needs and desires of our partners, and balance those with our own abilities as well as constraints imposed by variables beyond our control, e.g. willingness of Clipper to provide PATMA with Clipper Cards, or actual interest in such a subsidy from the low-income sector.
What We Observed and Learned
This week the class learned about different legislations, strategies and bodies to help curb environmental pollution and plan for the future. Plan Bay Area (PBA), a major topic of class lecture and reading, was approved in 2013 by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to think out and plan the next 27 years of the Bay Area. The plan helps governing bodies to prepare for the region’s future economic and human growth by forecasting future needs and promoting sustainable development plan for the next three decades. We learned that nearly 87% of the $253 billion in anticipated federal, state and local funds will be used to maintain and operate the transportation network already in place.
The scope of our project is much smaller compared to the grander plans of PBA. Nonetheless, the California Assembly Bill 32 requires greenhouse gas emissions to reduce to levels of 1990 by 2020. It won’t be a massive change in our way of life that will help Californians meet this goal but rather a thousand little steps — one of which is the very program we are designing with PATMA. Provided our Clipper-card subsidy program comes to fruition, it will be a small but meaningful step to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. For the future, PATMA could even work with the MTC or other governing bodies to promote the TDM project.
Critical Analysis / Moving Forward
Our next big step is creating and administering the interviews to businesses we select in Downtown Palo Alto. Adina expects employers to be very receptive to our outreach, which is encouraging. She thought there would be no problem getting six or more interviews, which means that hopefully our sample size will be limited not by the willingness of employees and employers to take our survey, but by our own time constraints. As we select businesses to survey, we will need to be very strategic about whom we reach out to. Ideally, we would get a representative sample of industries and company sizes, and employee commute types, which will require a bit of preliminary research and maybe even interviewing.
The size of a business may influence how much employers are willing to pay to subsidize transit passes e.g. Clipper Card for their employees (and perhaps also whether or not the employer will get a discount on the passes). Even if it is a flat fee to participate in the program with the TMA, smaller businesses might have less overhead to spare on such a commitment. The influence of type of business is less obvious, but certain industries likely employ a greater percentage of low-income workers (e.g. restaurants with lots of cooks and waitstaff). This could influence the willingness to participate in a transit pass program if the employer feels they would have to provide a greater subsidy on the passes.
On the employee side, shift times, commute types, and commute routes will influence how useful a transit pass program would actually be. For example for an employee whose shift requires them to travel at non-peak hours, public transit might take so long it isn’t an attractive option even with a fully-subsidized pass. We’ll need to ask employers about the diversity of shift times and commutes among their employees before we conduct employee surveys.
Our plan for creating and conducting surveys is as follows:
First, we must contact businesses to set up times to survey the employers. Wendy Silvani connected us with two businesses already, Philz Coffee and the Garden Court Hotel. Sophie is currently scoping out other businesses that might add value to our dataset. While we select and contact those businesses, we are also working on the surveys themselves. We will need two surveys, one for employers and one for employees. The employer survey will ask questions to investigate their perceptions of employee satisfaction as relates to commuting, their interest in a Clipper Card-TMA partnership pilot, and the level of subsidy they might be willing to provide for such a program. We will also ask the employers when the best times to survey employees are, since we do not want to be a nuisance and hinder their work. The employee survey will investigate commute times, types, and distances, interest in a subsidized Clipper Card, and the amount they are willing to pay if the card is not completely covered by their employer and/or PATMA.
When we survey, we will go in pairs or as a group of three, and we will try to arrange employee surveys are a variety of shift times to get a representative sample.