San Mateo County Transit District Shuttle Study

What is the San Mateo County Transit District Shuttle Study?

The Shuttle Study is a comprehensive and holistic analysis of the publicly accessible shuttles serving San Mateo County and Caltrain stations in Santa Clara County.

Over the next several decades, demand for transit service on the peninsula is expected to grow along with the cost of operating shuttles. This study aims to identify ways for the shuttle system to adapt to changing conditions.

Key questions: 

  • How do we measure the success of a shuttle service?
  • Should the program be organized differently? If so, how?
  • How should future funding allocations for shuttle service be made?

Potential Shuttle Service Improvements: 

  • Integrate shuttle and bus service more effectively through Reimagine SamTrans
  • Prepare for increased demand associated with Caltrain electrification, corridor growth, and the Caltrain Business Plan
  • Improve shuttle organization and management
  • Develop a long-term funding strategy

Study Timeline

  • Winter 2019 – Summer 2020: Stakeholder interviews, existing conditions documentation
  • Summer – Fall 2020: Development of Shuttle Program Vision
    • Vision includes ideal scenarios for service, funding, operations, and management.
  • Winter 2020/2021 – Onwards: Implementation of Shuttle Program Vision

Background: Shuttle Service

Shuttles included in this study are free and open for public use. They generally operate on a short route either circulating through a community or connecting riders from large transit systems to employment centers or other high-use destinations, often called first/last mile connections.

Shuttles can take many forms depending on the operating environment and goals for the service. Some of the distinguishing factors are clear; others, less-so.

Sponsor funding: Unlike traditional bus systems, a significant portion of the Shuttle operating cost is paid for by the shuttle route’s “sponsor.” In most cases this funding comes from a private company, but it could also be a local public agency, such as a city government. As a result of these public-private partnerships, shuttle service is typically provided free of charge to passengers.

Timed transfers with regional transit: Typically, shuttle services are designed to be highly specialized to provide a first/last-mile connection for commuters between transit hubs and employment centers. Shuttles operate with high frequencies during commute periods, and are often timed to train arrivals. By contrast, a bus route will typically run at a lower frequency throughout the day, in order to accommodate a wider array of trip purposes.

Vehicles: Though some popular routes are served by regular sized buses, most routes use “cutaway” vehicles, which are smaller than a bus and can carry approximately twenty passengers.


Shuttles by the numbers:

  • Shuttles provide approximately 5,200 weekday boardings.
  • The operating cost of the program was $7.6 million, 34% coming from the private sector.
  • There are 45 shuttles funded by SamTrans, Caltrain, and/or the SMCTA.
  • These shuttles provide service across 18 cities and operate connections to 16 Caltrain and/or BART stations.