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UncategorizedInvestigation: SF gave the Google buses a “handshake” pass...

Investigation: SF gave the Google buses a “handshake” pass for years. Now will the violators finally get tickets?

Park wherever you want, even in the middle of the street – if you are a master of the universe

By Tim Redmond

FEB. 21, 2014– A group of activists has filed an appeal to the Municipal Transportation Agency’s deal with tech companies and their shuttle providers, which means the pilot program is on hold for the moment. That means it’s once again illegal for these giant buses to park in the Muni stops. And it raises the question:

Will the MTA and the police department now start an aggressive program to force the shuttles and their clients to pay the same $271 to park in a bus stop as anyone else? And if that happened, would the tech folks come back to the table and offer to pay more than $1 a stop?

And it has me wondering: Why has this gone on for all these years, with no official policy rules except an apparent wink-and-nod arrangement with the tech firms to allow them – and nobody else – to break the law with impunity?

Documents I’ve obtained from the MTA through a public records request offer a fascinating look into how this non-policy policy has been enforced (or mostly, not enforced) over the past two years.

Among other things, the documents show:

  • Google hired a prominent public-relations and lobbying firm to try to get the city to stop issuing bus-stop tickets.
  • A vice-president for sales and marketing at Bauer’s, which operates many of the shuttles, noted in an email to an MTA official that “as I assume you know, we have had a ‘handshake agreement’ with SFMTA for years that allowed us to use the stops.”
  • Google asked to be exempt from parking tickets while the city was trying to develop a policy on shuttle use.
  • In response to complaints about traffic backups from the Google buses, MTA officials urged that the city do “outreach and warnings” instead of issuing tickets.

The documents are a series of internal emails discussing the shuttle issue. Most involve Carli Paine, a project manager for the MTA’s Sustainable Streets Division – who has had the unpleasant job of handling a long list of complaints about the buses, mostly from people who see the hulking behemoths blocking Muni and slowing traffic. (more after the jump)

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Marke B.
Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at) 48hills.org, follow @supermarke on Twitter.
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