New Palo Alto Downtown Commute Survey Shows 55% Drivealone Rate

The first employer survey for the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association shows a 55% drivealone commute rate, with 45% of commuters traveling to work in some other way. 17% of downtown commuters used Caltrain, and 15% of commuters walked or biked to work.

The TMA plans to use the survey data help plan investments to further reduce driving into Palo Alto downtown, where car parking is experienced as scarce, and traffic makes driving inconvenient.

Commute mode choices for Palo Alto downtown workers

 Mode share

By US standards, downtown Palo Alto sees a high rate of walking and bicycling. Out of workers who live within 3 miles of work, 26% report walking to work, and 18% report bicycling.  Within 10 miles, 30% report walking or bicycling to work.

The survey suggested opportunities for even more commuters who live nearby to walk or bicycle. 40% said they would walk or bicycle if there were better paths, trails or sidewalks, and 32% said they would bicycle more if there were better bicycle parking options.

Biking and Walking Attitudes

Barriers that keep people driving

About half of respondents said that they would rather not drive, but alternatives don’t work for them.   This information suggests ways the TMA might be able to reduce the barriers that keep people driving.

Nearly 50% said that they would use transit if it were less expensive – a common TMA program is to provide transit pass discounts.  The good news is that VTA has agreed to enable the Palo Alto TMA to “pool” groups of employees who work downtown in companies that are smaller than can typically qualify for VTA’s bulk discount programs. Caltrain does not yet allow downtowns and other dense areas to create pools of smaller companies for bulk discounts, however this sort of program that would likely benefit transportation management associations in a growing number of cities; not only Palo Alto, but potentially Mountain View, Sunnyvale, San Jose, Redwood City, San Mateo, and others.

Part of the cost equation is parking – currently, the monthly price of a parking permit in downtown Palo Alto is $44, which is about a quarter of the price of a monthly Caltrain pass.  The current cost of a parking pass, $528 per year, is a tiny fraction of the amount it would cost the city to build a new parking spot in a garage, which is more like $3500. If the cost of parking was increased closer to its replacement cost, transit and other alternatives would look more attractive in terms of out of pocket expense compared to driving and parking.

Sixty percent of people who’d prefer not to drive said they would use transit if it were easier to get to a stop – this suggests opportunities to provide better information about bus connections, improve shuttles,or potentially to support Uber/Lyft type services for first mile connection.

In addition to the barriers on the slide below, 44% survey respondents said that they drive to work because they use use a car for meetings, deliveries, or other work-related tasks. Some of these commuters may be able to use Palo Alto’s ZipCar service which is available in the downtown today (but workers may not yet know about).



Potential programs to reduce driving

Based on the data so far, changes that might make sense include:

  • transit pass discounts
  • ZipCar and Guaranteed Ride Home services for people who drive because they have mid-day errands or may have unexpected mid-day travel needs (e.g childcare emergencies)
  • first-mile transportation (depending on deeper geographic analysis)
  • bicycle parking improvements
  • personalized coaching to help employees understand their options
  • adjusting parking pricing to provide a fairer comparison to the cost of transit

The next meeting of the Transportation Management Association steering committee will be July 9.  At that meeting, staff and consultants will present more information, including more detailed “clustering” of employee residences and needs by location, and analysis of the cost/benefit of various options.  The discussion in that meeting should result in recommendations for ways that Palo Alto can reduce driving to the downtown.

See the entire TMA presentation at the TMA website or through SlideShare below.


Want to know more about parking in Palo Alto? See our follow-up post on how the city subsidizes parking for commuters and the unintended consequences: traffic jams and parking shortages.


  • Agmus Smith
    commented 2019-11-18 23:09:28 -0800
    Because of the enormous amount vehicles, there is a lot of traffic, and this thing makes inconvenient for the driver to drive on the road and sometimes because of immense traffic there is a lot of accident took place, so the government has to practice some strict action to overcome this traffic issue.

    Regards: Agmus Smith
  • Steven Row
    commented 2019-10-24 09:31:00 -0700
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