In the coming weeks it is expected that more people will return to work at Lab sites. In this conversation with John Chernowski, Senior Transportation Manager, learn about the new shuttles and their features along with other transportation improvements the Lab has made in the past two years.
Elements: What are the three biggest changes in transportation since March 2020?
- The biggest thing is we have a new shuttle provider with a brand new fleet. Eventually when we reach full strength we will have 19 vehicles. New shuttles improve reliability since there should be fewer breakdowns and less down time due to maintenance. The new shuttle provider also has improved technology that includes an app that provides real time arrival information and displays where a shuttle is at any given time. The app also notifies you of any service changes, such as having to move the downtown BART shuttle stop due to something out of our control.
- The second is improved communication media about transportation within the Lab’s infrastructure. There are new signs at all Lab shuttle stops in Berkeley, Emeryville, and Oakland and within the Lab’s hill site. The new signs show every route that stops there, the direction of travel, whether it is a morning or afternoon route as appropriate, and shows if the shuttles that stop there can accommodate ADA riders and/or bikes, which all our shuttles can. We’ve added electronic signage at six shuttle shelters around the Lab that displays information from local transit agencies in addition to Lab shuttles. The other agencies are BART, AC Transit, Amtrack, bike shares, and walking times to common locales. A common barrier to using public transit is a lack of information, so we’re improving how we deliver information to make taking transit far more convenient and predictable.
- The third thing is we are improving the comfort of the shuttle system by installing a new shelter at Building 69 that is modern, has electricity, and eventually an electronic monitor. It is also ADA compliant. At some of the more popular onsite stops without shelters we installed two seat benches where riders can sit and wait. Those are at Buildings 26, 46, 55, and at Building 48 on both the up hill and down hill side. The seat at Building 48 has a nice view as a bonus.
Q: What do you want people who have never been on site, or have not been on site for a long time, to know about transportation at the Lab?
John: Let’s talk first about the number of parking spaces. There will be fewer spaces now due to ongoing projects that will improve the Lab’s infrastructure and build the next generation of science facilities. We need to build facilities and improve our infrastructure to be prepared for the next century. However, demand for parking will be lessened due to the way we will be working as we come out of the pandemic. Pre-pandemic the Lab had about 1,800 personal vehicle parking spaces and we had about 4,500 people coming onsite each day. Now we will have about 1,600 parking spaces, and at the high end, about 3,000 people a day coming on site. So the ratio has improved. Shuttle ridership has also exceeded our expectations during the pandemic.. We’ve had over 600 riders per day several times recently, even with the lower population numbers on site. The growth in the use of the shuttle is a testament to how reliable the service is.
We’ve also partnered with our Projects Division to encourage our construction workers to carpool and use our shuttles for coming to the Lab. This will result in a significant reduction in parking spaces used by this population. When they do drive onsite, they’ll park in either parking lot D (the Pit) or their project laydown area. So, they’ll be using spaces either undesirable or unusable for most of our staff.
What I’ve found is that concerns about parking are most often about convenient parking. We have the capacity, even pre-pandemic, however the spaces are often in inconvenient locations. One of the mitigations to parking at the Lab is improved shuttle service. We are offering better comfort and better wi-fi. As the demand increases we will increase the number of vehicles in circulation. We are currently stopping at all stops every 15 minutes but we plan to increase the frequency as more people come on site. We need to keep parking in perspective. We have free parking. That is a good deal in our urban environment since few other places offer free parking in the Bay Area. We make it as convenient as possible. As demand increases, we can also bring back parking at Lawrence Hall of Science. It’s another 100 spaces we can draw upon. We had the lease pre-pandemic but most days there were only a handful of people parking there.
Q: What more do you want employees to know about transportation at the Lab?
John: Once we get settled into our new work modes and understand the new daily population we will do a commute survey. This will help us develop effective strategies to address our community’s needs. The next transportation frontier is micromobility. We know that about half of the Lab population lives within five miles of Lab as the crow flies and the use of shared micromobility to get people from their homes to the Lab is a real possibility. The City of Berkeley is working on a few permits with micromobility companies, and we are part of the discussion to see how these services can work with us. Micromobility vehicles are things such as sit down scooters and electric bikes. This can open up another commute avenue for a lot of people. We’ll gladly increase our bike racks as we increase bike riders.e The one thing I’m disappointed in is the lack of ride share partners since the industry was hit hard by the pandemic. We had Scoop at the Lab pre-pandemic and people were using it. We had over 600 people sign up for it and we were averaging almost two dozen ride shares a day after only six weeks. We need a critical mass of drivers and riders to make matches again, and with less people on Lab sites that will be more of a challenge.