The Google Bus Ballyhoo is Back

Protesters block a "Google Bus." Aggravating tech workers is not going to solve the housing crisis. Photo: Chris Martin
Protesters block a “Google Bus.” Photo: Chris Martin

At yesterday’s San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors again discussed stopping Tech Shuttles from using Muni bus stops, and voted to instruct SFMTA to study sending them to special hubs instead. Under this plan, tech workers, it is hoped, would use Muni buses to connect to these hubs.

The resolution was supported by board President London Breed and supervisors Jane Kim, David Campos, Norman Yee, John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Aaron Peskin.

“Shuttle hubs are a bad idea if our goal is (as it should be) to get people to use buses instead of cars,” wrote Scott Wiener, who opposed the resolution, in an email to Streetsblog. “Shuttle rides from San Francisco to the Peninsula can be an hour and a half each way, or longer. To add one or two Muni rides each way could easily add an hour or more of daily commuting time. Moving toward a hub model guarantees the decline of the shuttle system, as many shuttle riders will shift to driving.”

Wiener also questioned the logistical practicality of the hubs. “I’m not sure where my colleagues think they’re going to site mega bus stops with 100+ buses stopping there during rush hour. I don’t know anyone who would want that in their neighborhood.”

If adopted, this would replace a pilot plan, which some supervisors wanted to make permanent, that had the shuttles using Muni stops for a nominal fee. Meanwhile, SEIU 1021, a labor union aligned with Google bus protesters, is suing to stop the buses from using Muni stops. Under the hub system, if adopted, tech workers would catch their coaches in parking lots in the South of Market Area.

It was almost a year ago that protests against “Google Buses,” as the privately run motor coaches are often called whether they belong to Google or not, had reached their apex. In previous articles, Streetsblog addressed the connection housing advocates make between the buses and San Francisco’s housing woes. But as pointed out in a previous post, the most likely outcome of jamming up these buses is that tech workers will buy private cars instead, causing more traffic and pollution. But here we go again, with a bus blocked by protesters at 24th and Valencia yesterday.

So, what’s behind this lawsuit against the buses, anyway? There’s a tendency in the Bay Area to vilify tech workers and the industry, spelled out in Conor Friedersdof’s recent piece in the Atlantic. Surely, the influx of workers that come with the tech boom–or any boom, really–is going to increase demand for housing. So, yes, they’ve contributed to the demand for housing and driven up prices. The only answer is to build housing–lots and lots of housing. At least that was the conclusion of a recently released report from the Legislative Analysts Office. Streetsblog’s sister publication, Santa Monica Next, took a look at the study and what it says about housing statewide.

That said, does anyone really expect a highly paid tech worker to wait for a city bus to travel to a central location, and then board a tech shuttle for a long ride to San Mateo or Palo Alto? It seems more likely they will call an Uber or Lyft to get to the hub. Or, possibly, as Wiener argues, they will buy cars and drive directly to the Apple, Google, and Facebook campuses, further traffic-clogging and polluting the region.

Or there’s a third possibility: the tech industry might get fed up and leave the Bay Area all together–taking the economy with it.

  • jonobate

    Feel free to supply such arguments and supporting data that might contradict Weiner’s assertions. Streetsblog is an advocacy publication; it’s not their job to provide counter arguments to their editorial line.

  • farazs

    Yes, but that one corporation that pays me, actually employs me. Your theory of indirect employment is loopy!

  • mx

    How is the theory of indirect employment loopy? Imagine an isolated town with only two businesses: a giant factory with 1,000 employees, and a diner. The diner has a couple of waiters, cooks, and a manager. Who eats at the diner? Where does the money that pays the waiters come from? How long will the diner last if the factory closes?

  • farazs

    Since the town is isolated, and the only other business is the diner, the only thing the factory could manufacture is food for the diner. I rest my case.

  • mx

    My understanding is that the cap hasn’t historically been that much of an issue (especially as it can rollover year to year), but that it’s becoming one now with all the projects in the pipeline.

    The concern, and it’s not a terribly unreasonable one, is that we shouldn’t be developing massive amounts of office space without building the housing, transit, and other infrastructure we need to support it. Since we’re not building enough housing and pretty much all forms of peak period transit in/out of SF are at capacity, how does building even more office space help?

    As usual, we need to build more housing and transit. Unless and until that’s really going to happen on a scale that begins to approach our ability to put up new large office towers, I’m not convinced the Prop M cap is a bad thing at all.

  • Carl

    You can’t cast the first stone and simultaneously play the ‘better man’ card, broseph.

  • Carl

    What about singling them out for non-enforcement, which seems to be the currently proposed policy? Doesn’t that just single out everyone else? And what makes the shuttles oh so special, in this regard?

  • Carl

    Then you might want to update your linkedin.

  • Carl

    Lotta Weiner fans on this board, if you catch my drift.

  • farazs

    If you are talking about non-enforcement of double parking, then you know something that neither the city council, nor the shuttle operators are aware of. Are you sure ^that^ is part of the currently proposed policy?

    As far as use of Muni stops is concerned, I do agree that the slippery slope concern is valid. OTOH, this is no where near as unprecedented as you claim. Taxis get designated parking stands – they are privately owned and operated. Private cars get parking spots in public space all over the city. Commercial loading zones all over the city serve private enterprises. So your ideological argument has no legs. The key here, as in other cases, is regulation and mitigation.

    Valid concerns about issuing permits for use of MUNI stops are what happens when tour buses and NTCs want a piece of that pie or if sheer volume causes more delays for the MUNI.

  • PennyLuckySF

    Well, a comment section in a blog like this isn’t the place to summarize and regurgitate news reports, policy studies and other opinion pieces. I came across this article, such as it is, because I subscribe to news alerts on this general subject. Many of the better articles about San Francisco actually come from outlets such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, Harpers, Chicago Sun Times, Boston Globe, LA Times, and international publications such as the Guardian, Le Monde, Al Jazeera, and a host of others. Locally, I read the Chronicle, yes, and I read the Examiner and 48 Hills and the Public Press and Hoodline and neighborhood papers and listen to KALW and KQED and more. I read PEW studies, etc. I’m not always convinced by everything I read (I should hope not), but at least I’m informed, at least I have the tools to evaluate. I also follow, which actually posts many of the stories from these publications. I don’t bother with the comments, because it’s the links to articles, studies, etc. that matter to me. I can go to the links and make my own assessment. That’s what I would advise.

  • PennyLuckySF

    I also watch BoS meetings online when it’s something I really care about. Anyone can do it. I’ve lived in SF for decades and San Franciscans, I have noticed recently, about to be some of the most badly informed people about their own civic circumstances. Depressingly myopic.

  • Easy

    You don’t even need to bulldoze the lots… Just put a curb cut along the whole frontage (like some apartments with separated garages, or gas stations), and voila, you’ve made the curb space only usable by the owner.

  • Carl

    Yes, in the middle ground between the so far proposed solutions of ‘let’s ban corporate buses’ and ‘let’s let corporate buses have special privileges that no one else gets’ are at least a few options that don’t seem to have been discussed. This issue could, after all, be solved through free market advocates’ favorite institution – the private market, as the business community so often proposes issues of rents and ‘who gets to live in San Francisco’ should be settled. What about ‘Who gets to run shuttle lines in San Francisco’ – shouldn’t that be ‘pay to play,’ as well? Or are the richest companies in the world suddenly unable to afford to participate in the private market, and need special accommodation from us lowly proles?

  • jonobate

    Yes, I also consume media.

    You’re avoiding the question. If it’s so easy to find counter arguments with supporting data to what Weiner is saying, I’m sure it would take less time to summarize those arguments than to write what you actually posted.

    I’m genuinely interested in the counter arguments because I haven’t yet heard any that weren’t based on a logical fallacy and weren’t straight emotional appeals without any substance. If you have any arguments that you feel have merit, I’d be very interested to hear them,

  • PennyLuckySF

    No, I’m not avoiding anything. If you consume all that media and you “haven’t yet heard any [arguments] that weren’t based on a (I assume you mean il)logical fallacy and weren’t straight emotional appeals without any substance,” then it would be a spectacular waste of time to engage in debate with such a stranger in a comment section. I just know when to avoid the bait.

  • jonobate

    No, I meant logical fallicy. And I’m very serious about not having heard any arguments against the Google Buses that made sense, aside from practical issue already being dealt with through the regulation discussed in this article.

    If you don’t wish to engage than that’s your decision, but understand that it’s pretty lame to drive by a comments section with a comment that amounts to “you guys are wrong but I’m not going to tell you why”.

  • Mountain Viewer

    Interestingly, in Mountain View, Google has a fleet of smaller buses to connect many of these FORTY buildings. In a way, they are adopting a system with hubs (a subset of the FORTY) and shuttles for first/last mile.
    Couldn’t the same system work in San Francisco? the smaller shuttles could even be shared with other employers (LinkedIn, Apple, Facebook…) via a private Transportation Management Association to improve service and efficiency.

  • Cameron Newland

    I think you must be referring to a Stanford MOOC that I took a few years ago. Anyways, the fact that I’ve taken a Stanford course is irrelevant to the topic at hand, which is tech shuttles. And I should add that it’s really creepy that you’re stalking me on LinkedIn, but hey, it’s 2016, and we have magic search engines, so perhaps I shouldn’t really care.

  • njudah

    “Or there’s a third possibility: the tech industry might get fed up and leave the Bay Area all together–taking the economy with it.”

    really? this is the best you can do? really? Big ol’ Apple is going to leave because a few meanies upset them?

  • njudah

    also, why not simply have cities like Burlingame, Mountain View, Palo Alto. etc build more housing too? Why is it only San Francisco’s job to house employers in other counties? Oh right, we’re not allowed to talk about that! Carry on!

  • sfister

    You may well be the stupidest person on the face of the earth.

  • the_citrus

    They’re not going to move their offices to SF.
    Based on all the shuttle talk, it seems like most of their employees actually live in SF. In reality, it’s more like 10-20%, and there are probably enough employees living in San Jose and southward that they would be left behind with such a move.

  • Carl

    I totally agree with this – how did we come to the conclusion that the regional housing crisis has to be solved by SF proper? Places like South SF, Fremont, etc etc are/would be happy to build. Why is it SF’s burden?

  • LM

    The same NIMBYism alive and well in SF is alive and well in those other cities.

    Regardless, young workers increasingly prefer to live in urban centers, they don’t want to live in Fremont or South SF or even downtown SJ.

  • LM

    No, but instead of expanding here they will expand elsewhere. Arguably in areas with climates and development patterns that are worse for the globe, such as Texas, where long commutes and lots of air conditioning are necessary for survival.

    Fact of the matter is the Bay Area is one of the greenest places in this country to develop high density, and NIMBYists prevent it.

  • LM

    They can’t just move their offices to SF. We have the Prop M office space cap that makes the moving prospect difficult and drives up office rents.

    SF NIMBYists have done everything they can to make housing and job creation difficult.

  • Flatlander

    I don’t catch your drift. Can you elaborate?

  • Carl

    I don’t usually engage with people who use the term NIMBY – it’s a stupid and cynical term that prejudges anyone who disagrees with your stance.

  • Carl

    They won’t want to live in SF if it looks like SJ.

  • LM

    Why is it stupid. It’s the truth. People claim all day long they want X until X is proposed in their back yard. Then it’s no dice.

  • Carl

    This doesn’t happen. How do you know it’s the same people calling for it and opposing it? Can you see inside peoples’ minds?

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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. So what can […]