How Google Busers Can Avoid Bus Backlash: Get a Car

Tech workers’ humdrum daily commutes in San Francisco have recently become anything but. An environmental appeal was filed (and later rejected) against the city, on the grounds that the “Google buses” are a direct cause of skyrocketing rents and housing displacement. Protestors blockading tech shuttles in bus stops have drawn a frenzy of international media attention.

Image: ABC 7

So what can a gentrifier do to get to that lucrative tech job in Silicon Valley, without having to sneak around costumed blockades and news cameras? As it turns out, there is one sly way for a commuter to use plenty of public curb space for absolutely free, while completely avoiding public scrutiny. All that this theoretical Google or Facebook worker has to do to both enjoy the city life in San Francisco, and fly under the radar of the political backlash, is drive to work.

You can bet that no one will block their vehicle in protest, file a lawsuit, or seek an environmental review for the existing policies that let commuters store their private vehicles on public streets.

Sure, the big private buses make an easy target to fixate upon and blame for the city’s housing woes. Sure, many of us have sat aboard Muni buses blocked by a shuttle bus idling at its bus stop. As we’ve written, this is not a sustainable situation: Private bus operators should be charged an appropriate and legal amount for new loading zones by reallocating curb space now used for parking. That’s what the SFMTA is planning to do with its pilot regulation program. Although its scant $1-per-stop price has drawn criticism, it’s the maximum allowed under state law, and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin has wished aloud that they could charge more.

Targeting tech shuttles does not address the root causes of the city’s big woes, and two recent polls indicate that a majority of San Franciscans agree. The Bay Area has failed to build an efficient transit network to connect where people live and work, and failed to build enough housing to match its vigorous job growth. Minimum parking requirements ensure that cars find housing, even when people can’t, and even though most of the space along San Francisco’s curbs is reserved for storing private automobiles.

The very same complaints against commuter shuttles, as lodged by those who appealed the environmental review exemption for the SFMTA’s shuttle regulation program, can be levied against cars as well — albeit on an entirely different scale. Private cars clog the streets, block Muni, occupy public space for free, create air and noise pollution, and endanger bicyclists and pedestrians, all day, every day, throughout the entire city — and instead of filing lawsuits, we take it all for granted.

If the argument is that vehicles driven for highly-paid residents are also vehicles that drive gentrification, it’s bizarre that no one seems to care when that vehicle is a car. It’s another example of how our society has a huge blind spot: We cannot seem to see how much we’ve re-shaped our cities, and our lives, to ignore the negative effects of the automobile.

  • nhb

    Well said (written)…

  • Mario Tanev

    Most real San Franciscans use cars, because transit is not affordable and it takes too long because of the traffic created by all these bicyclists, bulb-outs, red transit-only lanes (empty most of the time, plus drivers drive in them anyway – such a failure) and shuttles. Plus a lot of San Franciscans live or work outside San Francisco, so they have to drive. Yet these techies come from outside our city uninvited and clog our freeways and neighborhoods with these luxury shuttles instead of taking the MUNI, the Bart and caltrains.

    As a 5th generation San Franciscan I drive and pay taxes. Didn’t you see that study that says that buses put more strain on the road than SUVs. Yet the bicyclists don’t pay anything and use our streets for free. You should just charge the dangerous bicyclists and the greedy corporations and focus on fixing the Muni. There need to be subways like in New York or else we won’t ride, it’s too slow. But you first have abolish the SFMTA boondoggle and make parking free since it’s public. They only waste our money on boondoggles like the Central Subway and the BRT.

    Get rid of those bulb-outs, they slow traffic and create dangers for our fire department. I like most people don’t walk, I drive because I have places to be, a family to feed, so pedestrians don’t need these bulb-outs. And stop removing parking to make them. Also, the bicyclists should stay off the road. It’s too dangerous, are they stupid? Stop giving them bicycle lanes, there are no safety issues, they should just go on the sidewalks. I walk all the time and these dangerous bicyclist almost ran me over 5 times, get off the sidewalk you idiot!

  • Excellent stream of consciousness. You forgot that it’s the pedestrians’ own fault when they get hit by cars, and that bicyclists are responsible for most accidents in the city because they run stop signs and create so much general chaos that it’s no wonder drivers get confused. Bicyclists and pedestrians also create congestion because if there were no bicyclists or pedestrians, traffic could zip right along since pedestrians and bicyclists take up so much more space than cars. And if there were no buses, traffic would also go more smoothly since buses are always backing up traffic and everyone knows that one bus takes up more space than forty cars.

    And if parking was always free, then there would be so much more available. Since most cars are idle 95% of the time, 95% of all curb space should be devoted to car parking. It’s because we charge money for parking that we don’t have enough of it. It’s because we allow people to walk or bike in this city that people get hit and killed. The more people stay in their cars, the better off everyone will be because then they are protected by steel and airbags. All sidewalks and bike lanes should be ripped out, and no one should be allowed into San Francisco unless they are willing to drive everywhere they go. As to tech workers, no one should be allowed to move into San Francisco unless they are a direct descendent of the Ohlone. It’s always the new people who cause problems.

  • Justin

    HUh????

  • gb52

    Every time I see one of these Google Bus articles i cringe… WHY the bus.. Would you have one of those buses or 30 private cars? Have we forgotten the cars and delivery trucks that block roads? Do you block out all the drivers that you are cursing at? People need to stop being “mode-blind” and see the bigger picture. And mass media needs to stop latching on and covering REAL news.

  • ≈ There was a problem with people being displaced during the dot-com tech bubble in the 1990s. One of the things that showed up at that time were posters by the “Mission Yuppie Eradication Project,” which advocated damaging fancy cars and SUVs. It really struck a nerve: being gunned down in the middle of a gang turf war was just an accepted risk of Mission life, but having one’s SUV vandalized was beyond the pale!

    This generation is less interested in cars, which is definitely an improvement.

  • Dexter Wong

    You mean to say that no cares if the freeways are clogged with cars so long as there are no Google buses on the road? What if most of the tech companies move shop to Texas, would that make people feel better? Or would they complain about how bad things are in the Bay Area?

  • tungwaiyip

    That’s what I think. Next time these jerks harass the bus, just get off, go home and get your car, pick up a few of your coworkers and drive to work. Don’t waste time with these idiots. If these protesters have any sense, go to the freeway and block cars. Don’t be cowards to harass buses.

  • vcs

    Well said.

    However if these folks “get a car”, most of them would live out in the burbs, much closer to work. The SF-South Bay auto commute is grueling and you would have to really want to live in SF to subject yourself to 2+ hours a day driving. (Not to mention street parking in most hip neighborhoods is nearly impossible.) While I’m not against the shuttles, there’s no question they allow people to live in SF who otherwise couldn’t or wouldn’t.

  • tungwaiyip

    Depends on which “burbs” you live in. It is not uncommon for people in Contra Costa country to drive 2+ hours a day to commute to San Jose. I have know quite a few people who drive even longer to get to work.

  • Russell Blank

    Ha… at first I thought this post was sincere, it was only when it got into full Onion territory that I realized this was brilliant parody.

    My favorite part is the last paragraph which begins with “I like most people don’t walk, I drive because I have places to be…” and finishes with the satirist stating “I walk all the time and these dangerous bicyclist almost ran me over 5 times.”

    Brilliant!

  • alicem

    is this really about buses versus cars, and do the answers lay there? Is it not more about the divide that is growing, and the growing two-tiered lives? Perhaps the issue is not buses but that they are private and exclusive, serving what has become an elite class. Could they be open to all? Do the tech companies also run buses for their lesser-paid contract workers to areas where they live? Could these companies, with their money and influence not work to help provide better transit for all – especially those who help create the more desirable places and charmed lives – the service workers of all sorts who enable a quality of life, those who build the new condos, those who drive buses, who work in the many lesser paid jobs that directly and indirectly support those in the tech industry? While more environmentally sustainable, they are a symbol and a reality of a shift that cannot be sustained.

  • WilliamH’Ford IV LLC

    Wow Aaron what a monumental feet of mental gymnastics. Way to completely
    ignore the root of the arguments made for another review of the buses.
    Way to discount the consistent, measured and legitimate concern about
    impact on existing public transportation and safety of cyclists and
    pedestrians.

    I, like many, do not view the private bus issue
    through gentrification goggles, instead focusing on safety and service
    interests.

    But hey you are right I guess I just have to deal with
    private buses double parking, or using bike lanes, where the MUNI stop
    isn’t desirable, using small residential streets that cannot safely
    accommodate buses (and are not used by MUNI), and blocking MUNI service
    for the benefit of a few, right? Because cars.

    Seriously this
    argument that if the private buses cannot have it all their way (and by
    extension presumably continue to expand their routes in an unregulated
    fashion), then cars are a reasonable outcome is really just childish
    bullshit.

    Question, how many of the supposed 59% of private bus
    riders who claim they would use a car will actually follow through on
    that when 2+ hours commutes (driving, not typing away on work), nightly
    parking hassles, and fuel costs are all actually figured in to the
    equation?

    Your op-ed does nothing but contribute to the
    political brinkmanship between to irrational extremes (those who want no
    buses at all, and the firms who want no functional regulation of their
    corporate perk). Well done. If you followed Tuesdays hearing you would
    have noted that a large group are seeking better regulation. The review is a tool to force the hand of those who due to politics (read tech money funding campaigns) are unwilling to follow through on legally obligated reviews.

    Regulation =/= Banning.

    I
    guess it is safe to assume Google, G-tech, Facebook, Apple and the lot
    kicked down some money to keep the lights on at Streetsblog for the
    month, right?

  • peoplearedumb

    The protesters are jealous. If they spent as much time looking for a job as they do protesting they would have nothing to complain about. Google is giving their employees some perks and any company can do that. Google isn’t asking people to pay for the bus they are subsidizing it themselves. Stop whining.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    As a 5th generation San Franciscan I …

    Excellent. No need to keep reading. Anything, from this author, on any subject, ever.

  • Think you missed the point…

  • I live in Noe Valley where thirty (I am not kidding) of these buses (Google! Apple, Genetech! Some other unmarked company!) go in front of my house every day. I am fine with these buses. I would rather have these thirty buses go by my house THAN 900 CARS. Enormous numbers of people in Noe Valley have been driving to jobs in Silicon Valley ever since I move here twenty years ago. I am delighted to have them take a bus instead.

    When I am out walking, biking, jogging in my neighborhood and other neighborhoods, I have never had a bad run in with a corporate bus. Not once. I will not argue that others haven’t had a bad experience, but not once has one been double-parked in a bike lane I was riding in or nearly run me over in a crosswalk. In contrast, I have bad experiences with cars on a DAILY basis–blocking the bike lanes forcing me into fast traffic, honking, cutting me off, not seeing me in the crosswalk as they blast through the stop sign, not allowing me to cross (as a pedestrian) even when I arrive at the intersection first, etc. Sometimes I have two or three bad experiences in a single day. Again, corporate buses–not a single bad experience. Private cars–never-ending bad experiences. In fact, I would say corporate buses are far nicer to me than Muni buses. Not that all Muni bus drivers are mean, maybe only half. But I have never had a corporate bus driver not wait for me to cross the street, or not wait before pulling out as I ride past on my bike, etc. Muni drivers–again, about half–do pull these stunts routinely.

    No member of my family works for these tech companies with buses, I receive no payment from them. My prime concern is the well-being of San Francisco and the planet. Energy-wise, private cars are a disaster. Climate-wise, private cars are a disaster. Health-wise private cars are a disaster. Space-wise private cars are a disaster. Corporate buses make it possible for people working in Silicon Valley to reduce or eliminate their use of private cars. They make it possible for people living in San Francisco to own no car at all.

    In the face of declining world net energy available, people who live in San Francisco use far less energy than people living in the suburbs, even if they commute by bus or rail to work. They live in fewer square feet to heat and light, they make more non-commute trips by foot, bike or transit. They generally don’t have lawns or swimming pools. And they generally have no need for air conditioning. Yes, it would be better if companies could locate in San Francisco rather than in horribly inaccessible corporate parks. (Talking to you, Apple.) But as long as Silicon Valley towns refuse to build dense, walkable neighborhoods, the buses are the second best option; far better than suburban sprawl into the ungodly reaches of the South Bay. If there is not enough room on our streets for these buses to either stop or traverse (because the roads are too narrow), then private car storage should be reduced until there is enough room. Low carbon emissions transportation is a far higher priority than private car storage on public land.

    Now if the real issue is that rents are too high (and the buses are just an indirect way to complain about this) this bubble is so close to bursting that all you have to do is wait a few more months. (In the meantime, grab some popcorn and watch the air coming out of the Chinese bubble first.)Then the for rent signs will spring up like mushrooms on every block, just like they did in 2001 after the dot.com bubble burst. But then the problem will be having a job at all.

  • Google and tech companies should do a bike commuting contest!

  • Let’s hope if any give up on the shuttles, they at least buy electric cars.

    Dense, two story biodiesel shuttles make some sense but I see few bicycles on the racks. What gives with this, is it always door to door service?

  • They are double parked over our bike lanes in the Mission and Valencia to be sure.

  • They had some pretty awesome ideas in their time..

  • Oh my god! Bikes are busy reducing pollution and congestion and in my way. They should pay high taxes!

  • Jeffrey Baker

    There’s little reason to use a bike when the buses come pretty close to where you live, and the tech companies all have bikes on their campuses. You’d see more bikes at the shuttle stops that serve less dense housing areas, like in the Oakland hills, Danville, Santa Cruz, and whatnot. The bus pictured can actually hold quite a few bikes; I think 9 on the back and maybe half a dozen in the lower compartments.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Googlers have a paid benefit for self-powered commuting that accrues into an account that can be disbursed to charity at the end of the year. In addition there are well-known daily “SF2G” rides from SF to Mountain View (lots of companies, not exclusively Googlers) and an equivalent but noticeably smaller “EB2G” for the East Bay.

    So yes, and they do. Maybe there should be some public competition between Google and FB and Apple or something, but I doubt it would increase much the bike commuting which is already widely practiced.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I LOLed.

  • andrelot

    A basic reason for shuttles to be company-specific is that they allow employees to work while in transit. Many of these companies have security policies against – for instance- opening a notebook in a Startbucks and working with sensitive material, whereas, as far as I know, the tech buses are considered places allowed for work (like the homes of the employees or the private rendezvous area in their HQ.)

  • andrelot

    “Indie” arts, music and otherwise a very active cultural scene (the kind of think tech-haters love to whine about being “lost”) can only flourish if they are immersed in an environment where there are a lot of people with disposable income that somehow finds its way to create a market for theater, cozy music concerts, handicrafts and the like.

    I think most of the people whining about the techies would feel much more an income loss if the techies moved out. I don’t think they actually want some economic depression to ‘keep rents down’ as they’d also lose income more than the rent would be lowered.

    Overall, they are a very incoherent bunch. It is like they want the benefits of having a strong regional labor economy, while despising those that lead it.

  • jnffarrell1

    Recent Street Performances:1) are auditions in front of news cameras 2) entertaining 3) have people with considerable dance and gymnastic skills. Too bad Google buses have have to provide the backdrop.

  • murphstahoe

    Question, how many of the supposed 59% of private bus
    riders who claim they would use a car will actually follow through on
    that when 2+ hours commutes (driving, not typing away on work), nightly
    parking hassles, and fuel costs are all actually figured in to the
    equation?

    125% of them

  • murphstahoe

    This is bullshit and counterproductive. The protestors mostly have jobs. They just don’t pay as well as a Google job. A lot of these jobs have social impacts that we are all very happy exist. There should be a way for someone with such a job to have reasonable housing or the city becomes uninhabitable for everyone. But the city also requires this big chunk of moderately high paid workers – who in the end do fund these other jobs.

    It’s the housing, stupid.

  • murphstahoe

    The racks suck. A lot of shuttle people I know, the days they ride down, take Caltrain home.

  • vcs

    The geography of bay area development forces a lot of people into ridiculous commutes, sure. However, not highly compensated SV engineers, who could live almost wherever they like.

    The busses are a perk. They allow employees to be suburban cubical dwellers by day and urban bar dwellers by night. Don’t kid yourself into thinking they exist for altruistic reasons, reducing traffic or etc.

  • To me the shuttle bus protests seem silly because they’re focusing on the symptom but don’t take a critical look at the causes. As with anything, addressing the symptom feels good but doesn’t help in the long run.

    But I don’t think you can really argue that this is just a transit problem. We’ve stacked the cards so high against making major changes to the Bay Area that anything that might help here — whether it focuses on cars or not — is simply off the table.

  • Prinzrob

    Many of them do compete in the yearly Team Bike Challenge as part of the Bike to Work Day events in every May. In fact, Apple has won their countywide competition several years in a row: http://www.TeamBikeChallenge.com

  • Craig Smith

    Google’s membership in ALEC is in stark contrast to it’s corporate motto “Don’t be evil”.
    The buses and the glasses are just a part of Google’s bad image. They are an arrogant corporate giant, and they’re too big to be able to see why people are disgusted by them.
    I use DuckDuckGo as my search engine.

  • Craig D

    Maybe someone can explain this intelligently to me. For years, urban development has been touted as a sustainable alternative to suburban sprawl (the negatives of which were somewhat valid – high CO2 emissions, high cost, lower tax base to urban centers, urban atrophy, inequality of education, etc.). Meanwhile, educated young Americans have flocked to cities in greater numbers, to live and work. Now, many folks in SF – many of whom, I suspect, once touted the benefits of city living – are discouraging people from living in their city because of the obligatory increase in rents? Please help me understand this, because, on the surface the argument seems naive and illogical.

  • noenoah

    Bikes go into the storage compartments, behind the panels. If they fill up, then bikes can go on the rack. The buses stop at a few spots in the sprawling Mountain View campus, and you walk (or ride a bike) to your building.

  • Maurice Patapon

    Good points, but since streetsblog only cares about cars and not class (or gentrification), this article gives us zero help in expelling the other toxic presence in our city, that is, the crass & clueless nouveau riche who contribute nothing to city life except their spending money (which only benefits their entrepreneur “friends”). Maybe if streetsblog took a look at the investment portfolios of these yupsters they would find that there are lots of other “unsustainable” and polluting activities one can engage in without driving a hated automobile.

  • murphstahoe

    Bullshit.

    When I was fighting for more open space in Noe Valley, where did I recruit people to help ? At the shuttle stops. When I want to get people to help fight for bike lanes, who shows up at the open houses? The people I know from google/etc… When I go to pancake breakfast find raisers at Harvey Milk elementary, who serves me the pancakes? My buddies from Apple. Who spent hours eviscerating non-native plants from twin peaks as part of friends of the urban forest? Other buddies from apple/Facebook.

    This line that they don’t contribute is just going to isolate the protestors. Because if “the googlers” really did want to “run over” the city, they probably could. But they don’t.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    What have you been contributing, Maurice? Looks like free-trade artisinal bullshit to me.

  • murphstahoe

    He’s been dressing in mime costumes and standing in front of buses.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Most of the people whining about the techie situation aren’t involved in creating culture anyway. That’s the joke about San Francisco. Since the rise of the Mission hipster, there hasn’t _been_ a cultural scene in SF to lose. A hipster is the first kind of scenester that is defined not by pretending to be a poet or a singer or a writer, but instead is defined by what he owns, or wants to own.

    Previous cultural scenes were centered around a few great cultural figures. The rest of the scene were pretending to be like those central figures, but at least the central figures themselves really did exist, and really did create cultural artifacts. Beats, hippies, etc.

    Hipsters have no cultural kernel at their center. A hipster is just some guy in tight jeans with a dysfunctional bicycle and an apartment full of obsolete audio equipment. Hipsterism is pure materialism. The rise of this particular type of person in the late 90s signalled the ultimate decline of San Francisco into cultural irrelevance.

  • davistrain

    If the Google, Apple, etc. workers drove their own cars to work, they’d be undistinguishable from all the non-techies in their cars/SUVs. The buses are hard to miss, and one gathers that to some people they are like the proverbial red flag in front of a bull.

  • murphstahoe

    What about Maker Faire? Oh yeah, all techies. Nevermind.

  • Gezellig

    Of course this is yet another reason to advocate for protected cycletracks which by definition cannot be blocked. No temptation to block something which isn’t even possible.

  • Dexter Wong

    Just because they are visible, does it mean that it’s OK to flood Bay Area freeways with more cars just to satisfy an annoyed but loud minority?

  • Dexter Wong

    Google buses exist as an extension of the Google workplace, to get more productivity out of their workers.

  • NoeValleyJim

    If you want regulation, get the Board of Supervisors to do their job and pass regulations. Don’t abuse the Environmental Impact Review process to try and force your way upon someone else who is doing something that you happen to not like.

    I guess when your opinion is in the extreme minority, you have to try and use whatever you can because you sure can’t win at the ballot box.

  • NoeValleyJim

    You kids get offa my lawn!

  • tungwaiyip

    Unfortunately this happens a lot. It is not about sensible debate but rather to throw every brick they can find to prevail over other people. The should not be bus because they damage the road seems to be in this category. Everytime a NIMBY group make their 20 points opposition are also mostly like this.

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