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Transit Researchers Want Your Videos of Tech Shuttles at Muni Stops

The public debate about the proliferation of tech shuttles, and the fees they should pay to use Muni stops, has thus far been driven more by emotion than by data and empirical analysis. But two city planning researchers at UC Berkeley are looking to change that by studying crowdsourced videos of private shuttles in bus zones, which they'll use to gauge the delays they impose on Muni.

Photo via Mark Dreger and Dan Howard
Photo via Mark Dreger and Dan Howard
Photo via Mark Dreger and Dan Howard

The $1 fee that the SFMTA will charge shuttles every time they use a Muni stop, as part of a recently-approved pilot program, has outraged gentrification protesters who view private transit as a cause of skyrocketing rents and evictions. They want higher fees. But the fee is limited by state law to an amount that recovers the costs of administering the program, and $1 is what the SFMTA has estimated to be the cost of enforcement and permitting.

By amassing videos of shuttle stops, Cal researchers Mark Dreger and Dan Howard think they can demonstrate the costs of Muni delays due to shuttles blocking stops while loading.

"We would like to find out what it really costs to provide this service, and no data exists to set a precedent for a fair market price for the use of these stops," Dreger and Howard wrote on a Facebook page about the study, which includes instructions on submitting a video.

Of course, as we've written, Muni and private shuttles -- which make it easier for commuters not to own and drive cars -- wouldn't be fighting for scraps of curb space if the SFMTA re-purposed more parking spaces for transit stops. The SFMTA has implemented a few of those in a pilot, but it's not a widespread practice yet.

There's no doubt, though, that data on the quickly-growing private shuttle industry is lacking, and solid empirical evidence is key to good policy decisions. Maybe these videos will help make the case that more curb space should be devoted to private transit boarding.

"It's worth trying to find out whether the shuttles -- or any other private vehicles -- are causing Muni delays, and to remedy it," said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich.

One useful stat on private transit is the finding from two other UC Berkeley researchers in a separate study [PDF], which found that without the employee shuttles serving tech companies in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, 48 percent of their users would drive alone, another 18 percent would take Caltrain, and 15 percent would carpool. So they certainly take a lot of cars off the road and open up seats on public transit.

People railing on the shuttles have held up, as a smoking gun, the finding that 40 percent would move closer to their job. But even if you believe that efficient transportation which enables people to live in walkable SF is a bad thing, this figure means that without the shuttles, most riders would stay put, and of those, half would drive alone to work instead -- hardly a net benefit in terms of traffic and congestion.

And while the focus has remained on the Silicon Valley shuttles, the SFMTA recently reported that 80 percent of private shuttle stops in SF are for trips that stay within the city. That, more than anything, seems to indicate the need for better Muni service and safer streets for bicycling.

Head on over to the study's Facebook page for info on submitting a video. Here's a sample video:

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