A Seat on the Bus

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October 24, 2013
Mountain View Voice
A Seat on the Bus

Google joins tech firms to form transit agency

Google is known for operating a huge private transit system, shuttling thousands of employees to and from Mountain View on big, white buses that are now iconic for the company's dominance in Silicon Valley. But soon Google is expected to share buses with employees of other companies -- and members of the public.

On Oct. 24, Google is expected to join Intuit, Samsung and two developers for the first meeting of the Mountain View Transportation Management Association, a City Council-created requirement for several new office developments in Mountain View. The agency will collectively run shuttles for major employers in the city, and run a new publicly accessible route between corporate campuses and downtown.

Aside from keeping solo car drivers off the road, the association's effectiveness will be in reducing the number of nearly empty employee shuttles in town, while potentially coordinating other efforts to reduce car trips. Possibilities include paying for a new shared parking garage that keeps North Bayshore employees from driving on an increasingly gridlocked Shoreline Boulevard, or new bike-share facilities. Such measures will be increasingly important as the city is now requiring "mode share" targets for new offices -- on Tuesday, Intuit promised to the City Council that only 45 percent of its employees would drive alone to a new campus at 2600 Marine Way.

Reduced traffic isn't the only way the public will benefit. The transportation management association (TMA) is required by the city to run a shuttle service to and from downtown that is available to the public.

"We will create a publicly accessible shuttle that will link our campus, VTA, Caltrain and downtown Mountain View," said Denise Pinkston, chair of the Mountain View agency's board and a partner with developer TMG, which is developing a campus for Samsung on the 600 block of Clyde Avenue.

Because it is not yet a requirement, Pinkston said she couldn't guarantee there would be a publicly accessible shuttle service to and from North Bayshore. Residents have long desired a frequent bus service to North Bayshore's movie theaters, restaurants and other entertainment venues, as well as Shoreline Park. Council member Jac Siegel said it was likely to happen soon.

"I really believe it will go into effect within next six months to a year," Siegel said. "Nothing like that exists now. People want to go to the movies, they want to go to Shoreline Park. We think that's a big benefit to the people of Mountain View."

Siegel said it was likely that such a shuttle to North Bayshore would even operate on nights and weekends. He added that such an arrangement is something Google would not have volunteered to do before.

"One of the things that is exciting about it is that Intuit has already said that anybody can use their shuttles -- Google initially said we're not going to do that," Siegel said.

Intuit officials told the City Council on Tuesday that its shuttles to and from Marine Way, near Shoreline Park's West entrance, are open to the public, though Siegel expressed concern about whether the public knew this.

Pinkston said Google and other companies would likely continue to run their own shuttle programs, but efforts would be made with the TMA to make sure as many routes as possible were not "duplicated."

The effort has so far been spearheaded by TMG partners, which has experience creating such a service in Emeryville beginning in the 1980s called Emery Go-Round that connects BART with a shopping mall, Pixar, and other employers. The service publishes maps and schedules online.

"We take thousands of cars off the road everyday," Pinkston said of Emery Go-Round, which she said MTMA would be modeled after. "It had a huge impact on that community. The hope is that Mountain View's TMA will have a significant impact on the quality of life in Mountain View."

Mountain View's TMA is likely to grow as developers and tech companies are required to join as a condition of new development in Mountain View. Google apparently got the message that it would probably be required to join the TMA soon when it propose its first major office development in Mountain View to the City Council.

Pinkston said the MTMA has many decisions to make over the coming year, such as how the buses will be branded, what exactly the routes and schedules will be and how the endeavor will be publicized, among other things. The association recently formed as a non-profit that is not subject to laws requiring publicly accessible meetings, Pinkston said, though city officials will be involved.

"It's a big deal to have all of these companies with incredibly divergent interests to sit down at the table together to work on a common solution," Pinkston said "Each party brings to the table different business practices and different transit needs, but I think together we're really going to do some interesting stuff."

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