By Nancy Amdur
Traffic in Mountain View may soon ease up a bit thanks to this month’s launch of two free shuttles servicing some of the city’s largest business campuses and downtown destinations.
On January 12, white 20-seat MVgo shuttles will hit the city’s streets. The shuttles are the result of more than a year of planning by the nonprofit Mountain View Transportation Management Association, led by a group of high-profile local companies including TMG Partners, Google, Intuit, Samsung Research America, LinkedIn, Sares Regis Group of Northern California, The Sobrato Organization and Broadreach Capital Partners.
Plans for the MVgo shuttle began in 2013 as part of TMG’s agreement with the city when it sought approval to develop the new Samsung Research America campus in Mountain View. Other companies soon joined the association.
“This really demonstrates the power of collaboration among private companies,” said Denise Pinkston, a partner at TMG and chairwoman of the transportation management association. The shared shuttle format will “improve the level of service for transit riders into Mountain View,” she said. Startup costs were about $250,000 and Pinkston estimates that total operations will cost approximately $1 million per year.
The public shuttle is geared toward commuters looking to connect between the train station and corporate campuses. Six MVgo shuttles will make 27 stops on three routes and operate five days a week during commuting hours. The service will consolidate existing employee shuttles operated by Google, Intuit and LinkedIn, Pinkston said. Shuttles will serve the East Whisman, East Bayshore and West Bayshore neighborhoods.
MVgo will save about 27 hours of driving time per year and be more efficient than other shuttles, which now run every 30 minutes while MVgo runs every 15 minutes, Pinkston said. Rider capacity is 100 people per hour on each route, she said.
“People are excited about the idea of participating in a service that has the possibility to really improve traffic in Mountain View,” Pinkston said, adding that employees also might appreciate MVgo’s model of “doing something differently together, [which] is very much in keeping with the business mission of a lot of these [local technology] companies.”
One challenge in forming the service was catering to each company’s differing needs, Pinkston said.
“We have done far better than we thought we might when we started,” Pinkston said. “I think all the companies are pleased and proud that they’ve been able to work in this very unusual partnership to do more together than any one of us was doing alone.”
Buses have bike racks and geo-locators for real-time coordination with smartphone tracking. A Mountain View high school student designed the logo after winning a contest for the honor held by the transportation management association.
Also, the Mountain View Community Shuttle will officially kick off its two-year pilot program on January 9. The 16-seat electric shuttle buses, funded by Google and overseen by the city, will be a neighborhood shuttle—as opposed to MVgo’s commuter-oriented service—moving among 50 stops throughout Mountain View, including shops, the movie theater and El Camino Hospital. It will operate seven days a week.
“These new services are examples of how Mountain View is tackling transportation in an innovative and openly accessible way,” Mountain View Mayor Chris Clark said in a statement.
“We’re thrilled to partner with the City of Mountain View on the new electric community shuttles and to mark the start of the MVgo commuter shuttle to help reduce single-occupancy trips on city streets,” said Meghan Casserly, a Google spokesperson. “Both programs will help make getting around Mountain View a little easier—and greener—for all of our neighbors.”
Free public shuttle services also operate in Emeryville and Oakland. In fact, Pinkston was part of the team that started the Emery Go-Round shuttle in Emeryville nearly 20 years ago.
Emery Go-Round began as a two-employer shuttle for TMG and San Rafael-based Wareham Development, Pinkston said. Fourteen years ago the city created a public benefit improvement district where voters in a defined area vote to tax themselves to keep the shuttle going, said Geoff Sears, a partner at Wareham Development, who is president of the nonprofit Emeryville Transportation Management Association, which runs the shuttle. The public shuttle now carries 1.6 million passengers per year around Emeryville and into West Berkeley, where it meets up with a private transit system, Sears said. The shuttles run every 15 minutes all day and into evening hours.
The shuttle started because Emervyille is not easily accessible to BART, Sears said. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, some local businesses were offering private shuttles between their campuses and BART stations before business leaders and city officials started discussing consolidating these shuttles.
“People had good foresight and wanted to encourage transit,” Sears said, adding that they formed the service voluntarily and “it’s been a big success story.”
In Oakland, the “Free B” Broadway shuttle began in 2010. It is overseen by the city’s Economic and Workforce Development Department and operated under a contract with AC Transit. Funding is provided through a public/private partnership that includes grants and local sponsors.
The “B” started as a way to attract employers and increase traffic for local businesses along the Broadway corridors, said Michelle Lane, president of the board for the downtown business improvement district. It helps relieve traffic along the congested Broadway area, she added. Residents use the service but a main goal was to get employees who work downtown to other areas within the district.
The approximately 30-seat green-colored shuttles run every 10 minutes from early morning through evening hours. Shuttles start at Jack London Square and make about 12 stops in the area, she said.
Coming up with solutions for traffic flow is one way local companies can contribute to their community, Pinkston said.
“TMG enjoys giving back to the community in a meaningful way through our projects,” Pinkston said. “This is hopefully a huge part of managing traffic and transportation over time so that Mountain View can continue to grow and traffic can be manageable.”