As Wired rightly puts it, "Few things have come to epitomize San Francisco gentrification anxiety more than private Silicon Valley shuttle buses," and today we can announce that all those hulking, white "Google buses" are here for good. The SFMTA's board voted unanimously this week to make permanent what has been a pilot program regulating the buses, as CBS 5 and others report.
To be clear, as SFMTA reps said at Tuesday's board meeting, if the program had been killed, the shuttles wouldn't have disappeared. They would still legally be allowed to exist on SF streets, they just would go back to being unregulated as they were before.
Under the existing program, approved originally in January 2014, the shuttles pay $3.67 per shuttle stop event, meaning any pickup or dropoff on city soil. As the Examiner reports, the number has been kept low by an interpretation of state law that says the city can only collect the cost of administering the bus program, but one tech employee who spoke at Tuesday's meeting said companies like his that made billions in profits needed to be charged more. "San Francisco desperately needs better public transit infrastucture,” he said. “Make my employer pay more.”
Other public commenters at the meeting brought up the issue of gentrification and the rising of rents along routes serviced by these shuttles, something that the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project believes is fairly evident, but which Supervisor Scott Wiener stood up to say there was little evidence of.
The new plan will limit the larger, double-decker buses only to major arterial routes around the city as defined by CalTrans, with smaller shuttles required to service smaller streets. Also, the new plan limits emissions from the buses, and includes stipulations for beefing up enforcement by the city, as the Chron notes.
Also, there is a vague stipulation in the ruling on the buses that there be "labor harmony" with shuttle bus drivers something that has been called for loudly since a report came out last year about the poor working conditions for many drivers, who often have to work "split shifts" covering morning and evening which end up resulting in 14+ hour workdays. As a result, drivers of Facebook shuttles, as well as those who drive for Apple, Yahoo, Zynga and others, have since unionized.
More controversially, the newly approved language exempts the Corporate Shuttle Program from further environmental review, something that critics are angry about. An appeal is likely in store to the Board of Supervisors, and there is an ongoing lawsuit by a group called the Coalition for Fair, Legal and Environmental Transit that challenges the city's right to allow the shuttles to use existing public transit stops.
Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement applauding the SFMTA's decision, saying, "“Even as we build thousands of new housing units and improve our public transportation infrastructure for the future, commuter shuttles will continue to be a vital provider within our City’s transportation infrastructure and they’re here to stay."