News Column

Google, Other Tech Firms to Pay to Use S.F. Bus Stops

January 7, 2014

Dan Nakaso, San Jose Mercury News

Jan. 06--SAN FRANCISCO -- Following a spate of angry blockades of buses here carrying tech workers to and from Silicon Valley, shuttle operators for Google (GOOG), Facebook and other companies have agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next 18 months to continue using spots reserved for public Muni transportation.

But some of the organizers of the protests said the 18-month pilot program announced by Mayor Ed Lee on Monday failed to address their larger concern of double-digit rental increases -- driven in part by high-salaried technology workers -- that are forcing long-time San Francisco residents out of their homes.

And they declined to say whether their protests against the buses in San Francisco would cease in the aftermath of Lee's announcement.

"Myself and other organizers are happy to hear that tech will finally be paying for the use of public infrastructure, as they should have been doing long ago," said Erin McElroy, who has helped organize the San Francisco protests. "But it doesn't address the bigger issue at hand, which is that evictions are continuing to skyrocket because of tech and its relationship to an upper class that is displacing long-time residents. "

On Monday Lee -- backed by representatives of Genentech, Google, Apple (AAPL), Facebook and shuttle-operator Bauer's Intelligent Transportation -- announced an 18-month pilot program that will charge shuttle providers a daily fee based on the number of stops they make. For the largest carriers, the fees will add up to "tens of thousands of dollars monthly," Lee said.

If approved by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency at its Jan. 21 meeting, the pilot program will restrict the buses to 200 of Muni's 2,500 bus stops and require them to yield to Muni buses and make room for other vehicles, on top of other new rules such as requiring each bus to carry a unique identification to help enforce the regulations. Protesters said the buses were illegally using the stops, which are clearly marked with signs that say violations carry a penalty of $271.

Monday's announcement doesn't address the anger in Oakland, where rental prices also have seen double-digit increases over the last year. Last month, a bus carrying Google workers had its tires slashed and its rear window smashed in.

Representatives for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan did not respond to questions about whether Oakland plans any changes regarding its tech worker shuttle buses.

Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said discussions had been underway in San Francisco to address the buses' use of spots reserved for public transportation.

Guardino said Lee and David Chiu, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, "share a positive trait that many of us in the technology industry have: We are incredibly impatient. When there is a challenge we want to fix it, not study it, fix it. To their credit, they are fixing it, even more quickly than even many anticipated. I believe this is a reasonable outcome to a complex situation that is good for all sides."

Yahoo (YHOO), Apple and Google told this newspaper that they have been working with Lee's office and support the pilot program. Google said its buses save more than 20,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, equal to 4,000 cars that are taken off of Bay Area roads every day. Google called the pilot program "an important step."

According to the Bay Area Council, the tech workers' Bay Area shuttle system eliminates "at least 45 million vehicle miles traveled a year ... avoiding 761,000 metric tons of carbon every year from the region's roads and air."

Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.

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(c)2014 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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Original headline: Following tech bus blockades, San Francisco to charge shuttle operators


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Source: (c)2014 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)