San Francisco protesters at a January rally in front of City Hall.

James Temple for Re/code

San Francisco protesters at a January rally in front of City Hall.

Culture


The board of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency unanimously approved a pilot program that will require companies operating employee buses in the city to obtain permits and pay fees for the use of public transit stops, a move aimed at quelling the growing local controversy over tech commuter shuttles.

But the program clearly hasn’t satisfied many critics of the buses operated on behalf of tech giants such as Apple, Facebook, Genentech and Google. Housing activists staged protests in San Francisco ahead of the meeting on Tuesday, blocking several buses, and concerned citizens packed the afternoon meeting to voice a litany of complaints.

The high-end buses for largely well-to-do tech workers have come to symbolize a long list of frustrations over rising housing costs, climbing evictions, growing economic inequality, neighborhood gentrification and arrogant attitudes of tech workers. There have been a series of anti-shuttle demonstrations in recent months, including an Oakland protest at the end of last year during which a bus window shattered and tires were slashed.

The 18-month pilot program, announced earlier this month, was designed to address the most concrete complaints about the corporate shuttles: That they have been using public transit stops for free, sometimes blocking and delaying city buses in the process.

A shuttle operator or employer will now have to pay a daily fee based on the number of stops it makes. Private shuttle operators must also abide by various guidelines, including yielding to Muni buses. The average cost per company is expected to run about $100,000, reaching approximately $1.5 million over the year-and-a-half program, the city said.

But critics argue the fees aren’t nearly large enough, noting they only cover the cost of administering the program itself.

“It doesn’t bring any new money in to help mitigate the impact of the eviction crisis, to provide services to tenants and to counterbalance the disastrous impact of tech on low-income citizens,” said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. “It’s too little, too late and too weak.”

Ed Reiskin, director of transportation for the SFMTA, has said that the agency is only allowed to create fees to recover costs, under state law.

Other protesters this morning stressed that the program misses the bigger issue: That corporate shuttles enable workers to live in San Francisco who would otherwise reside closer to their jobs in Silicon Valley. The resulting flood of workers in the city amid the current tech boom has ratcheted up housing prices, they argue.

“This is my home and I think it’s sad to see it turn into a place where only rich people can live,” said Kate Rafael, a long-time Bay Area resident affiliated with East Bay Solidarity. “People cleaning the streets, working in delis and teaching in schools should be able to live in the city where they work.”

The city of San Francisco has stressed the environmental benefits of the corporate shuttle program, noting private buses eliminate some 45 million vehicle miles traveled per year, subtracting 761,000 metric tons of carbon emissions.

“This agreement will help the city realize the benefits that come with commuter shuttles, such as keeping thousands of cars off our roads and preventing gridlock, while ensuring companies pay their fair share and don’t delay our public transportation system,” San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said in an earlier statement.




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