Why are More Facebook Workers Driving to the Office?

Protesters block a "Google Bus." Data from Facebook suggests more people are driving as a result of SFMTA restrictions on Tech Shuttle routes. Photo: Chris Martin
Protesters block a “Tech Shuttle.” Data from Facebook suggests more people are driving, perhaps in anticipation of SFMTA restrictions on shuttle routes. Photo: Chris Martin

As Facebook prepares to expand its West Campus in San Mateo County, it is presenting environmental reports to groups such as the Menlo Park Transportation Commission. Commissioner Adina Levin brought this to Streetsblog’s attention from the report: apparently more Facebook employees started driving in the past couple of months to the social media giant’s headquarters in Menlo Park. From a post by Levin in the Friends of Caltrain Blog entitled “San Francisco shuttle changes increase car traffic:

Facebook disclosed that their car commute trips had spiked in recent months, adding about 400 more cars to San Francisco streets, due to new San Francisco rules changing shuttle stops.

Reviewing the the next expansion of their Menlo Park campus, Facebook shared results of their successful transportation program, which had about 50 percent of employees refraining from driving alone – until SFMTA changed shuttle stops as a result of resident protests. The drive-alone rate, which had been about 50 precent, increased to 54 percent of Facebook’s 10,000 workers.

Napkin math suggests about 400 additional Facebook drivers on San Francisco streets and highway 101 following the shuttle changes. Facebook’s driving rate is still much lower than the 80 percent plus drive-alone rate at typical suburban office parks. But the extra cars are surely not what San Francisco’s policymakers and activists were hoping for.

The SFMTA rules changes she’s referring to started in February of this year. Some of them were designed to, according to SFMTA’s material, improve labor relations and help the environment by mandating newer model buses. However, it also included the following change:

  • Commuter shuttles over 35 feet long must stay on Caltrans arterial street network.

“Recent changes to the program were in direct response to what we heard from many in the community and from elected officials,” said Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesman. “Shuttle companies can still use those smaller neighborhood streets. They just need to use shuttle buses that are more appropriate for them–buses that aren’t over 35 feet long.”

Facebook tracks how its employees get to work. Some attribute a recent uptick in private automobiles to changes in SFMTA regulations. Source: Facebook's study.
Facebook tracks how its employees get to work. Some attribute a recent uptick in private automobiles to changes in SFMTA regulations. Source: Facebook’s study.

Is rerouting and restricting bus size really behind the increase in private car use? Here’s where things get a bit murky. The increase Levin’s writing about was in January–a month before the enhanced rules went into effect.

So what is Facebook’s data really indicating?

Streetsblog put a request into Facebook for more information, but received only a general response about the company’s desire to “work with city and community leaders to tackle local priorities, including transportation, housing and the environment.”

For now, it is probably safe to assume, as Levin does, that the backlash against tech shuttles is being felt. There’s a study underway to realign Tech Shuttles even more dramatically, by forcing them to pick up passengers in designated hubs sprinkled throughout the city. And as this publication has pointed out before, a likely outcome of ongoing studies, restrictions, hubs, changes, and protests may be to push many tech workers to go buy a car. Reportedly, Facebook anticipates that this recent increase in private automobile use is going to continue, which should not be that surprising–how many times does a tech-bus rider have to get held up by a protest, or figure out where to board on a realigned route, before at least some people stop riding the bus altogether?

Of course, this has larger implications than 400 more cars. “This trend is for Facebook,” said Levin. “But logically, Google and Apple should be having the same issues.”

Facebook, meanwhile, is offering incentives for workers to move closer to their campus and assisting in studies to improve transit access. 

  • murphstahoe

    The way this whole thing has gone down in SF is completely asinine.

    None of these changes are causing migration back South. When we lost our apartment in SF, I would have moved South if we could have found anything comparable – reasonable living quarters near any sort of business corridor/downtown. It just didn’t exist. The net impact of making the shuttle programs more complex is more driving – period.

  • BBnet3000

    Wow, the cycling percentage is way lower than the San Mateo average too. Build an extremely campus in the middle of a parking lot distant from transit and the towns where anybody lives, and driving is the predictable result. It’s Freeway Oriented Development.

  • If the goal is to improve Muni service, keep the shuttle restrictions coming!

    If the goal is to encourage techies to go somewhere else by making it a pain to get to their jobs, I doubt you’ll have much luck. Short of shutting down the highways… #WarOnCars Hey I’d be on board. Caltrain.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I’m not sure there’s enough data here to support the conclusion. Are we even sure that this is supposed to be the mode share for trips from SF? Or for all Bookfaces generally? If the latter it could be that their workers are moving to, or their new hires already lived in, places which are not well-served by their shuttle program.

  • Mario Tanev

    Several very popular stops were supposed to be MOVED, but instead were REMOVED due to free-parking opposition and are now in limbo, adding 20-30 minutes of walking to long commutes. Not surprised at the outcome.

  • murphstahoe

    Facebook did not build this campus

  • 94110

    Not so sure there’s an article here. Looking at the graph, it’s only a 2% change year over year.

    The only other year over year period in this data set (2012-12 and 2013-12) shows a 5% change. Seems like a pretty noisy graph.

    The most recent sample point was before changes were made.

    Also, if workers are moving closer to campus, they are moving into auto dependent areas, and are almost certainly more likely to drive. There might be a story worth writing about that.

  • RichLL

    But those local residents have a point. If SFMTA’s plan was to have two separate bus stops for two different classes of bus on the same block or in the same immediate area, and just because those two different classes of buses cannot play nice with each other, then that is dumb.

    Each bus stop takes out about 3-4 parking spaces. Why have duplicate stops when one bus service (Muni) runs, say, a bus every 15 minutes and the other (Tech Shuttles) runs just a few per day, 5 days a week, and only at certain times?

    The real problem here is the petty-minded opposition to the shuttles, and not the local residents and voters who think this is a tempest in a teacup.

  • murphstahoe

    “local residents and voters who think this is a tempest in a teacup, and who don’t see why they should be punished”

    “Napkin math suggests about 400 additional Facebook drivers on San Francisco streets and highway 101 following the shuttle changes.”

    Hint – a lot of those 400 cars are brand new and are now being parked on those streets every night.

    Add another 400 Googlers and 400 Applers.

    Great Success!

  • Michael Smith

    I’m truly impressed that an article shows stats of 54% folks driving in January and then promotes a claim that changes in February caused a big increase to 54%.

    Please be more discerning.

  • Jame

    True! At least Facebook reclaimed existing real estate instead of green field development.

  • yermom72

    “Facebook disclosed” = Facebook inserted this factoid into the press to pressure the city, and the press bit.

  • eugene

    certainly something for fb to watch, but not really a trend imo…still lower than 2012 and 2013. also, wasn’t there more rain this winter?

  • 4% of 10,000 people = 400 people.
    But do all of them live in San Francisco??

  • SF4SF

    Since driving is harder for a tech employee, I’m sure the will continue to shuttle until they figure out that they should live near their work and only come to San Francisco for recreation. We’re happy for more tourists, but not to be their bedroom suburb.

  • RichLL

    Why is “driving harder for a tech employee”? Are they more spatially challenged? Less dexterous? More visually impaired? Lack eye-hand-foot co-ordination?

    Also, it is lame for anyone in San Francisco to argue that we should not be housing people who work outside of the city. Every day about 100,000 people commute out of the city. And about five times that number commute into the city.

    So the reality is that suburbs subsidise the city by housing the city’s workers. They don’t owe us – we owe them.

  • murphstahoe

    “We’re happy for more tourists, but not to be their bedroom suburb.”

    Except when they come for Bay to Breakers. We hate that. And Fleet Week. What a disaster, especially near the wharf which sucks now anyway since the tourists ruined it. And don’t get me started on the Super Bowl. That crap has to go.

    And of course, those tourists damn well better not stay in an AirBnB.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Right! SF would have to build housing non-stop for decades to catch up with the surrounding cities in terms of housing-to-jobs ratio.

  • SF4SF

    I think you misunderstood my comment, I’m happy for tourists including those from Silicone Valley.

  • SF4SF

    My point was that driving is more tiring for anybody than riding a shuttle. Thus I’m not worried that more will drive even if they have to catch a taxi to the shuttle hub, Somehow Caltrain gets major ridership without suggesting their trains need to invade our neighborhoods to keep cars off the road. God forbid I suggest shuttle riders take Muni and actually associate with their neighbors for a few minutes.

  • SF4SF

    Can we agree that we should find all way to encourage people to live near their jobs. My concern is that the current building boom in SF is targeted to SV commuters rather than those that have been economically displaced.and are now forced to commute of change jobs. SF businesses are losing workers to this dynamic.

  • RichLL

    Nobody is “invading” your neighborhood. People are simply choosing where to live, just like you once did, presumably.

    Given San Francisco’s well renowned reputation for tolerance and respect for diversity, I would imagine that you welcome any new neighbors, right? And not allow petty prejudices and bigoted biases to pollute your thinking?

  • SF4SF

    The real issue is pace. All cities and neighborhoods change organically and comfortably over time. The current boom is creating forced change much too fast. It’s fueled by greed for tech money.

    It is making San Francisco less diverse, forcing out minorities. The newcomers are much less tolerant and don’t “play well with others” that look different from them. It is a culture change that conflicts with our values. So we don’t welcome them.

    It is not prejudice when fact and personal observations corroborate the conclusion. We are protecting the city we made and love and it’s minority and blue collar residents. .

  • murphstahoe

    Rich – you do know I find this delicious that you are now being deflected yourself 🙂

    SF – blah
    Rich – excellent rebuttal
    SF – No, my real point is blah
    Rich – excellent rebuttal
    SF – Well, the real issue is…

    Hoist on own petard 🙂

  • murphstahoe

    Like you care about the things you cry the crocodile tears for…

  • murphstahoe

    “Can we agree that we should find all way to encourage people to live near their jobs.”

    Absolutely. SF imports 200,000 net workers every day. I think we can agree that we need to build the housing in SF so they can live near their jobs.

  • SF4SF

    Agree as long as it is prioritized to those previously displaced and low income blue collar job holders in the city. Market rate housing just exacerbates the problem unless it includes over 50% BMR

  • murphstahoe

    Wait – why does the peninsula have to house all of their workers, but SF does not?

  • SF4SF

    You know I care. Why else would I engage here? Aside from that FYI, I spend most of my time actually working with, for and in the communities I am advocating for here. Crocodile tears can help water the desert of mis-information.

  • murphstahoe

    Why else would I engage here?

    Subterfuge for your actual agenda. This is why you need to constantly change your argument – “my real point is” “the real issue is” – because your argument is built from straw.

  • SF4SF

    All cities should house all their workers. Maybe you can create an app for people to exchange houses with that objective.

    And SV employees can live in the 50% MR units I previously advocated. Beyond that ratio their income is too destabilizing to the community.

  • SF4SF

    It does appear that you’re an expert on subterfuge. I clarify and expand on my points because you don’t seem to understand them.or just enjoy gaming.

    Enjoyed our dialogue. I have to get ready and go to a meeting regarding legislation to do some real good.
    Maybe you should do the same or just keep trolling, or whatever suits your fancy.

    Bye Bye for now

  • jonobate

    How is an app going to help anything? You know it won’t, and you’re just throwing that out there because anyone who doesn’t agree with you must be a techie, and techies like apps, amirite?

    The problem is that housing in SF is ridiculously expensive due to lack of availability. The solution is to build more housing, of all types. Market-rate housing does not help low-income people as much as affordable (i.e. rent subsidized) housing does, but it does help, by absorbing the housing needs of higher income people who would otherwise be competing for the same housing as low-income people. There is no circumstance in which building new market-rate housing makes things worse for low-income renters; people are going to want to live in the Mission whether you build condos there or not, and indeed the current housing price escalation started long before the new condos started being built, and long before the Google buses started running down Valencia.

    Such is the opinion of the city controller. Take a look at the presentation below. Slide 21 is the money slide; we can help low-income households by building at least 2,000 units of affordable housing per year, or building at least 4,700 units of market-rate housing per year, or by some combination of the two. Given that providing rent-subsidized accommodation is expensive and city finances are finite, the only practical solution to the housing crisis involves new market-rate housing.


  • Jimbo

    stop regulating these shuttles which are taking cars off the street. these young tech employees would live in SF whether or not there was a shuttle

  • Eli

    Most people I know at Facebook bike every day once they’re on campus and enjoy bike share on largely protected infrastructure.

    I imagine if there were safe routes for “interested but concerned” to access the campus by bike, I imagine there would be dramatically higher cycling rates to work, as well.

  • Kimberleycross1
  • sebra leaves

    How many
    times does ANYONE have to get held up by a protest, or figure
    out where to board on a realigned route, before at least some people stop riding the bus altogether?

  • sebra leaves

    I don’t get it. Aren’t we building new housing for people who bike and walk and don’t drive? Are you worried about them walking or biking longer distances to get to their privates buses?

    What about Muni riders having to walk longer to catch the Muni and then possibly having to stand on the bus? At least private bus riders are guaranteed a seat on their buses. SFMTA wants to remove Muni seats, forcing more riders to stand.

  • Facebook issued a statement denying responsibility.

  • SanFranMan

    Who’s “we”? The rest of the NIMBY Club?

  • FrenchKissed

    So, San Francisco residents should not be allowed to accept employment outside city limits?

  • SF4SF

    Didn’t say that, but is does seem to be a key principle of new urbanism and the need to minimize greenhouse gases we generate.

  • Luddite goons harassing shuttles that took traffic off the roads causes employees to drive alone more. Who knew?

  • “God forbid I suggest shuttle riders take Muni and actually associate with their neighbors for a few minutes.”

    It wouldn’t be a few minutes–it would be a few hours. The connections to other transit down the Peninsula are abysmal.

    So because of spiteful Luddite envy, you managed to shut down shuttles that were actually taking cars off the roads. Way to go!!!!!!


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