The battle over the Google buses continued today, with Sups. Jane Kim and Scott Wiener, who are running for state Senate, showing very different approaches that reflect how their campaigns may shape up.

48hillsgooglebuswheelchair
Google buses block the Muni stops, forcing disabled people into the street

The issue at the Board of Supes was technical – the Sierra Club and SEIU Local 1021 have appealed the transit shuttle program, demanding a full environmental impact report. Sup. David Campos, who is trying to work out a deal with all parties, asked that the appeal be continued for another two weeks.

The matter was continued two weeks ago, and these sorts of continuation motions are normally routine, particularly when all parties agree that a little additional time may render the appeal moot.

But not today: Wiener immediately announced that he didn’t want a continuance and that the deal was being orchestrated by people who want to destroy the Google buses. “They want to make it so hard for people to use these shuttles that they won’t use them,” he said.

Opposing the continuance made little political sense if his goal was to keep the shuttle program alive. Most observers agree that a full EIR would delay for as much as a year the implementation of the permanent program – and it was pretty clear that if the appeal went forward, there were six voters to uphold it.

In other words, the center of gravity on the board has changed with the election of Sup. Aaron Peskin, and the Google bus deal, as it currently exists, isn’t going to survive.

The tech companies and the bus operators realize that, and were willing to meet with Campos and Sups. London Breed and Norman Yee, along with the Sierra Club and SEIU, to try to reach a compromise.

But Wiener drew a clear line in the sand: He was the supervisor, and the candidate, who fully supports the shuttles, supports the tech industry, supports tech workers who are moving into San Francisco, and doesn’t want to further regulate the buses.

He argued, in fact, that nobody should complain about the tech shuttles causing displacement and gentrification. “This same argument could be made about any public transportation,” he said. “Should we not upgrade Caltrain because that will make it easier for people to get to work?”

Kim had a completely different perspective. While she insisted that nobody on the board wants to shut the program down, the Google buses aren’t like Caltrain: “We are legalizing a private mass transit program that gets to decide who is allowed to ride. We need to set up public regulations.”

She quoted Rebecca Solnit, the prominent local author, as saying the that the tech shuttles are “a roving gated community.”

Kim’s suggestion, which will likely be part of any long-term deal, is that it might make sense to move the large diesel shuttles out of the neighborhoods where they are causing both economic and traffic impacts and setting them up in hubs downtown.

Then, she said, the tech workers “can go downtown on Muni, invest in Muni, buy Muni passes” and ride the fancy wi-fi equipped shuttles on the freeway.

It’s a radical thought – that the wealthy workers who right now don’t have to deal with the rest of us on the public buses and can ride in comfort in a different world might have to take … Muni. As part of their commute.

Wiener shot back, saying there is a “hostility towards the shuttles” and going after Solnit as “a writer who wrote disparaging remarks about tech workers.” If the shuttle riders had to do what others, including Wiener, do, and ride Muni downtown, the “inconvenience” would undermine the whole program. People will stop riding the shuttles if they aren’t in the neighborhoods, he said, and will resort to private cars.

Kim said that the large shuttles are also “inconvenient” for the neighborhoods. People who rely on Muni, people who are disabled, tenants who are facing evictions (and yes, more than 60 percent of the evictions in the city take place in neighborhoods well served by Google buses, and yes, real-estate people use that proximity as a selling point) also have a reason to complain. It is, Kim said, a matter of balance.

There are, Wiener said, about 8,000 people who ride the shuttles. There are at least three times that many who have complaints about the shuttles. And so far, most of the tech workers aren’t voting.

Kim has a record or working with the tech sector; she supported the Twitter tax break. But she’s made it clear she is going to consider what tenants and neighborhoods are facing. And Wiener is lining up completely in the camp of the Google buses.

  • Greg

    It’s crucial that Tim opposes the idea of working people taking a bus to work. Who wouldn’t?

    • Y.

      “They will transport anyone who wishes to go to the Apple or Google sites.”—nope. You need an ID. Would sure be a nice way to ride free to Mountain View instead of paying CalTrain.

      • Greg

        Not so. I have used them a couple of time to visit those companies.

        • whateversville

          Every commuter shuttle I’ve ever heard of has been employees only.

          • Greg

            I was doing business with them. Wasn’t a problem.

            Anyway, why would it matter? Surely the only people who would want to travel to the Google campus are people going there on business, no?

          • Steve Rhodes

            Wrong.

            It would be great to be able to take a shuttle to google, Apple, or Facebook for free.

            But you have to be an employee or contractor.

          • Greg

            Why would anyone want to go there if not doing business there? They are in the middle of nowhere.

          • Y.

            You can take local transportation to wherever, just as you can from the Caltrain station.
            For a loophole-seeking, proud-to-game-the-system guy, you’re acting pretty dense.

    • whateversville

      “Also note that there is no question that the shuttles can operate on city streets.”

      I get the sense that a lot of people don’t know that. Killing the MTA program, even if that were possible, will not make the buses disappear.

    • sfister

      100% wrong. An employee badge is always required to board a company bus. Moreover, there are badge scanners on board to track usage patterns (this data is used to plan or change bus routes). I’ve forgotten/misplaced my badge in the past and the only way to ride is to give my LDAP (username)—it’s additionally helpful if the driver and/or another rider recognizes me as someone who takes that route daily. The latter is even a stretch. The badge rules all.

  • Y.

    Nice to see Wiener, who was supposed to be the thoughtful wonk of the conservative wing of the BOS, reduced to ad hominem, this-is-what-you-are-really-thinking arguments.

    • Greg

      Only about Solnit and, let’s be honest, she kinda asks for it.

      • Y.

        ‘…that the deal was being orchestrated by people who want to destroy the Google buses. “They want to make it so hard for people to use these shuttles that they won’t use them,” he said.’

        • Greg

          Does not sound implausible. Apparently there are some extremists who object to people taking a bus to work.

          • Steve Rhodes

            No, they just object to SFMTA rubber stamping a pilot program and then making it permanent despite many criticisms.

        • Pvt. Hudson

          I mean, he’s right.

          • Y.

            Fine. My point is he’s resorting to beefing about his political enemies. That’s not going to convince anyone, and doesn’t fit with his old image, so beloved by the press (including the SFBG, I’m afraid).

      • Steve Rhodes

        Has Wiener read any of Solnit’s books? have you?

        • Greg

          I suspect that the only people who read them are those who already agree with her. Have your read much from the Cato Institute?

  • chris12bb

    Kim may not realize but MUNI is a mess and adding riders will not help (even paying tiders) Weiner is a MUNi rider and probably the besr informed Supervisor where transport is concerned, So I suggest you listen to Scott on these matters.

    As for your childish jab at Scott for “supporting tech workers” firstly Kim also supported the tax break to encourage tech firms in mid-market. I am a little embaressed for you writing such a stupid thing. You can not be taken seriously when you write such transparent nonsence.

    • Steve Rhodes

      Which is why it is surprising Weiner ignores that 29% of shuttle riders in the report said they would take public transit if there weren’t google buses.

      You’d think he’d want to know what the impact of that loss of revenue is on muni & Caltrain.

      • AlbertoRogers

        You know that both MUNI and Caltrain and virtually every other public transit system on planet earth operate at a loss and require huge public subsidies to operate. Adding more riders does not add revenue, it adds cost burdens.

        • Greg

          Yes, Muni operates at a less than 25% farebox recovery rate. That means that each $2.25 trip actually cost $10. Plus even higher subsidies for kids, seniors etc.

          Plus Muni is packed on many routes during commute hours and so could not take the extra demand anyway, if shuttles went away. While CalTrain, although also often packed, had to make service cuts a while back because the taxpayers in the counties served baulked at throwing even more money at it.

          The transit systems in Paris and London cover more than 90% of their costs through fares. Our transit problems are managerial, financial and ultimately political.

          Why does nobody complain that BART stations or the UCSF shuttles drive up rents?

      • humdinger

        Maybe MUNI should enforce their fare collection. As a shuttle rider who also rides MUNI every day to and from my shuttle stop, I am one of very few people who actually swipes their Clipper card.

    • Mel Baker

      MUNI is actually far better than it was in the late 90s when the whole system melted down. In any case adding those tech workers fares to MUNI isn’t the only issue. If these well paid and motivated people had to put up with MUNI delays they might also invest in the system thru their advocacy.

      • Greg

        Or they might vote to de-unionize it, or even privatize it?

  • Kraus

    OK, then let’s shutdown all the shuttles.
    The UCSF shuttles, Kaiser Permanente shuttles, “Tech”shuttles, etc.
    The various shuttles are causing gentrification; they represent the root cause of the housing crisis — not SF’s and the Bay Area’s appalling anti-housing-development policy since the 70’s.
    By all means, let’s all use more cars.

    • Also add–

      The real cause of the crisis couldn’t possibly be SF’s and the Bay Area’s appalling fragmented public transit policies since the 70’s which swapped out BART around the Bay in favor of 280.

      It’s absurd that there’s not easily accessible public transit (meaning more than Cal-Train) going up and down the Peninsula. It’s almost like the lack of transit was by design.

      • Greg

        I don’t think you can blame people who could not foresee 50 years into the future. And in fact I-280 enables BART for a few miles.

        A big part of the problem is that each city and country has its own transit system and housing policies. There is little planning for the entire Bay Area but, when we do that as with BART, it works.

        Too many balkanized fiefdoms squabbling with each other

    • Tod1732

      The shuttles are the “root cause of of the housing crisis?

      Who knew? Then let’s get rid of the shuttles and all live happily ever after in cheap housing.

    • Straw man argument. Kaiser and UCSF shuttles stop at reserved shuttle stops in front of Kaiser and UCSF facilities. Tech buses stop at MUNI stops and impede public transit that we are all paying for. There is a big difference.

  • whateversville

    “It’s a radical thought – that the wealthy workers who right now don’t have to deal with the rest of us on the public buses and can ride in comfort in a different world might have to take … Muni. “

    Maybe the mostly-car-free riders of said buses already take Muni and BART. It’s a radical thought, I know.

    • humdinger

      Guilty as charged. I take the #1 bus every morning to and from the shuttle that picks me up. MUNI is easily the worst part of my commute with the overcrowded bus, the lack of a schedule, and the fact that it drops me off 5 blocks away from my residence anyway (uphill one way).

      It also irks me that no one seems to pay their fare.

  • whateversville

    “There are, Wiener said, about 8,000 people who ride the shuttles. There are at least three times that many who have complaints about the shuttles.”

    Meanwhile, from the MTA report:

    “Overall, the SFMTA received 296 complaints between October 2014 and June 2015. […] One particularly active community member, a resident of Noe Valley, provided 69 of the 296 comments, or 23% of the total.”

  • Dolly Fine

    I have proposed a simple answer to this problem for two years: the buses assemble at a convenient location, like the Safeway parking lot at Church and Market, the riders walk, bike, take Muni a taxi or even Uber to get on the bus at a regularly scheduled time. This both frees up our streets from privatized transit and it would also teach the passengers that all the money in the world can’t buy you out of every small inconvenience.

    • hiker_sf

      Exactly. There are several sites around the city that would be suitable for this.

      • AlbertoRogers

        How about in front of your house?

        • hiker_sf

          My house isn’t in the Safeway parking lot, nor is it at the Balboa Park BART station. MANY people live where those buses stop now. Consolidating those to maybe 5-10 spots around the city means that the Google buses will not be bothering so many people.

          Oh, and buzz off, troll.

          • AlbertoRogers

            So your solution is to REEEEEEEALY inconvenience a few unfortunate souls by concentrating all the buses at a few stops rather than spreading them all over the city and mitigating any impacts. that’s a viable solution so long as the hub is nowhere near you. Just so we all understand where you are coming from.

          • Greg

            Also the whole idea of a shuttle is that it serves the areas where its workers actually live. Telling someone in Noe Valley that they have to hike downtown or to some forlorn windswept off-freeway parking lot to get to work isn’t going to be relevant.

          • humdinger

            Not to mention that the traffic in the city during commute hours is already pathetic.

          • hiker_sf

            I’m not aware that anyone lives in the Safeway parking lot. But they do have large truck in and out of there ALL day. Having Google buses load there means no traffic jams on the streets, no Muni buses stuck waiting for the Google buses. etc.

            But nice try. When you are losing the argument, always invoke the concept or word NIMBY.

          • Adam Phelps

            The Safeway parking lot, however, is commercial real estate and so not really something that the SFMTA can regulate.

          • hiker_sf

            Especially if nobody asks. Regardless, there are city properties that could be used for this, but there is no political will to do so.

    • Greg

      As already noted, the shuttles are perfectly entitled to use the city streets anyway. The issue is where they stop.

      They could certainly use private locations as stops, like car parks, and in fact the UCSF shuttles do that a lot. However note that the entire point of a “shuttle” is that it picks you up somewhere near your home. If an airport shuttle told you that you had to hike half way across town to catch it, you’d probably drive instead.

  • Time to end all tax breaks for the tech companies and start taxing them to the hilt. They don’t like it – move.

    • chris12bb

      Do you include pharama as tech? Banking? Who decides what is a tech company and how much is the hillt? And yep they will probably move and you’ll see more shuttles and less tax revenue to throw at whatever social cause you think is currently the most worthy

      • Adam Phelps

        Exactly. I’m all for a even tax landscape that brings in revenue without discouraging profitable businesses from being located in the area.

    • humdinger

      Then where will you come to voice your displeasure with the world?

  • Just for my own personal curiosity, has any non-Google employee tried to get on a Google shuttle? Do you have to show an employee badge to get on the bus?

    • sfister

      Yes. Badges are mandatory. You are required to have your badge scanned on board, just inside the doors.

  • AlbertoRogers

    MUNI’s farebox recovery is about 22%, the other 78% of the cost of the ride is paid by the people of the City and County of San Francisco. MUNI is as close to as free ride as you can get. It is overburdened and falling apart. In steps the private sector and provides buses for their employees to get them to work and not further burden MUNI or ask the taxpayers to subsidize their employees. In any sane or rational city that would be welcomed. IN San Francisco Jane Kim wants to punish these greedy companies by forcing their employees out of these buses and on to the already over crowded and highly subsidized public system. If she gets her way, every Google or Apple employee forced on to a MUNI bus to get to one of these neighborhood hubs will buy a $2.25 ticket, that $2.25 is just 22% of the cost of carrying that employee, the other $7 and change is paid for by you and me. Remind again me how this is helping San Francisco?

  • Foginacan

    It wouldn’t hurt to roll back the shuttle programs to how they operated 5 years ago instead, when it was largely the idea of them which people objected to.

    Staggering the buses so they’re not so prominent during rush hour, and cutting down on the stops, or moving them into pick up zones, would go a long way.

    But there will still be people clinging to a culture war, who linked them in their minds to displacement, and dozens of important issues that needed a scapegoat.

  • After reading the article again, it just seems like so much politics.

    More than likely, nothing is going to be done, but someone might pick up a campaign donation from a tech company hoping to change the debate to something else.

  • Tod1732

    “A roving gated community.”
    Sounds like the district shopping that Jane Kim likes to do when she can’t get elected to public office in her home district. Don’t worry, if Janie doesn’t win the election, she can always move to Stockton or New York or some other place and run for public office there.

  • Mel Baker

    I used to think Weiner was a competent supervisor. He does seem to manage his office well, but he has most certainly sold out the city to the wealthy just like Mayor Lee.