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A Successful Commuter Shuttle that Serves more than Commuters

The Emery Go-Round is a shuttle service that meets the "last mile" challenge that prevents many commuters from using public transit. Unlike other commuter shuttles, it serves the greater Emeryville community as well. And the buses are full.
November 14, 2013, 8am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Richard Gonzales, NPR’s San Francisco correspondent, reports on how the East Bay City of Emeryville, nestled between Oakland and Berkeley along the San Francisco Bay, has solved the “last mile” challenge for commuters. While one of the state's smallest cities (2.01 sq. miles), it is one of the densest with over 10,000 residents and twice as many jobs at the likes of "Pixar Animation Studios, Leap Frog, Jamba Juice, Peet's Coffee and numerous biotech companies."

The Emery Go-Round is unlike most commuter shuttles that meet commuter trains (in this case, at the MacArthur BART Station) and transport employees to their work sites in the morning, and the reverse for the afternoon commute. The free, "Next Bus" equipped shuttles serve the city's residents and shopping districts as well as its large employers,

The shuttle was expanded to run on weekends and to shopping areas. Last year, there were 1.5 million boardings on the Emery Go Round.

The city's transit system owes its success in part to John Flores, hired as the new city manager in the late 1980s. He helped "consolidate the few private shuttles that were already operating in town. Some city and federal dollars would pay half, the businesses would pay the rest."

But what made the Emery Go Round really succeed was the decision by the business property owners to form what's known as an improvement district. They essentially taxed themselves to support the shuttle.

David Downey, president of the International Downtown Association, explains that business improvement districts are "more common around the country for augmenting city services like sidewalk sweeping and park maintenance". He adds, "Emeryville was absolutely an early adopter of using business improvement districts to support transportation."

The shuttle's main challenge is dealing with its success. "The buses are full, the buses are at capacity," says Karen Hemphill, assistant to Emeryville's city manager. Consequently, the city took over the funding of the shuttle system - added as a "clarification" by the NPR editor after the story aired.

If you listen to the tape, you will hear the only gripe one happy shuttle user had was having no alternative but to drive to BART to meet the "first mile" challenge.

This story is part of an ongoing, NPR project on "Commuting in America."

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Published on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 in NPR
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