Redwood City votes for free shuttleBy Shaun Bishop
The city council on Monday unanimously approved a pilot shuttle program for the northeastern area of the city in an expansion of a successful commuter shuttle that takes workers from the Caltrain station to businesses.
With the new shuttle, which will run Tuesday through Sunday, residents may call a hotline the night before to request a trip during the day, with hours tentatively set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The shuttle driver will call the next morning to confirm, then will pick up and drop off the resident within the specified area.
What's the catch, you say?
To start, the shuttle will travel in only the northeastern part of the city, an area roughly bounded by Whipple Avenue, Highway 101, Woodside Road and El Camino Real. Only two spots outside that area - the Veterans Memorial Senior Center and Woodside Plaza - will be served.
Parents dreaming of saying good-bye to the morning traffic jam at school are also out of luck. The shuttle will not offer home-to-school service because of more stringent state regulations.
Still, council members said it should prove useful for the city's youth and senior populations or others who want to get out of their cars.
"There were many people in our community who needed help getting around," said Vice Mayor Diane Howard, who spearheaded the shuttle effort.
The total annual cost for the two shuttles - which will be operated by the Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance - is about $180,000.
About two-thirds of that will come out of grant funds from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the City/County Association of Governments and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Another $28,800 will be paid by employers whose workers use the Caltrain commuter shuttle and the final $36,000 will come from the city's budget.
The city decided to start small in part to avoid the cost overruns that plagued a similar, more ambitious shuttle effort in San Carlos that eventually ceased amid ballooning costs several years ago, said Mike Stevenson, the alliance's shuttle program manager.
The Caltrain shuttle has been an early success, transporting an average of 56 passengers per day to stops between the train station and the Midpoint Technology Park. Since its launch last April, it has eliminated 2,698 single-occupancy vehicle trips, the alliance said.
But several council members questioned how the city would judge the success of the on-demand shuttle.
While the value of the new shuttle for individual residents is apparent, "what's not clear is where the benefit is to the wider community," said Council Member Ian Bain.
Council Member Jeff Ira said offering rides to youth doesn't sit well with him. "I'm not at all that excited about providing free transit to a generation that, it's been documented, doesn't get enough exercise to begin with."
But others said the service could be tweaked if needed and should be a valuable resource for city residents.
The council plans to re-evaluate the shuttle program in six months.
Copyright ©2008 San Mateo Daily News. Published 03/11/2008.