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Uncategorized The battle over SF bus stops

The battle over SF bus stops

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As foes of the Google Bus deal take their case to court, a state bill would legalize the privatization of public bus stops

Where do tech buses park? Anywhere they want, apparently
Where do tech buses park? Anywhere they want, apparently

By Sue Vaughan

APRIL 24, 2015 — The crisis that has been disrupting San Francisco housing, and driving out the lower and middle classes for some years now, is moving to another piece of valuable real estate – public bus stops.

Private, for profit corporations have been salivating secretly over these stretches of curbside real estate with such intensity – and secrecy – that you might think there’s gold underneath the pavement.

Did you know, for instance, that on Monday, April 27, the California Assembly Transportation Committee will hear a bill, AB 61, that proposes to essentially give away public bus stops to some of the wealthiest, private, for-profit corporations that the world has ever known?
This giveaway has been ongoing for several years with the assistance of locally elected and appointed officials – but in violation of the California Vehicle Code.

The law

For some years now, private luxury tech shuttles have been operating illegally in public Muni bus stops. The vehicle code is unambiguous: “Under existing law, a person may not stop, park, or leave standing alongside a curb space authorized for the loading or unloading of passengers of a bus engaged as a common carrier in local transportation when indicated by a sign or red paint on the curb, except that existing law allows local authorities to permit schoolbuses to stop alongside these curb spaces upon agreement between a transit system operating buses as common carriers in local transportation and a public school district or private school.”

But in early January 2014, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency quickly cobbled together the Commuter Shuttle Bus Pilot Policy and Program to monitor and regulate the sharing of public bus stops with private, for-profit corporations and carriers.

Five present members of SFMTA Board of Directors, all of whom serve at the pleasure of the mayor, adopted the policy in early 2014, opting to forego an environmental impact report.  An environmental impact report could assess all impacts of the system, from air quality (big diesel buses that spend a lot of time idling) to evictions and displacement of middle and lower income people to far flung suburbs where they must drive more frequently and for longer periods of time.  Environmental impact reports under the California Environmental Quality Act are also required to include mitigations.

Proponents of the private shuttle bus system argue that they get cars off the road, and the Genentech buses proudly advertise that each bus removes 120 cars.  But if only wealthy people can afford to move in and lower-income people are being forced out or prevented from moving in, then only the cars of rich people are being removed from the road.  Displaced lower-income people are in all likelihood moving to suburbs less well-served by mass transit.

When the Board of Directors decided against an EIR, the Coalition for Safe, Legal, and Environmental Transit hired a lawyer and appealed that decision to the Board of Supervisors in early April.  When the eight out of 10 supervisors present denied the appeal, the coalition sued in court.

The shuttle program officially “started” in August 2014, with a charge per stop event now set at $3.55 per stop per day per bus (not passenger).  Per state law, the city can’t charge the buses more than the cost to administer the program.  There are about 200 private shuttle buses with permits, operating in about 100 bus stops. There are also 19 “white zones” where the shuttles have exclusive access (at least during commute hours).  Supposedly, these private buses are being charged for about 2,500 stops events per day.

The lawsuit lingered for months, with an army of lawyers from Morrison and Foerster, and other blue chip firms, in defense of the real parties to the lawsuit – Google, Apple, Genentech, Bauer’s, and so on – using whatever legal road blocks they could to draw out the lawsuit, perhaps until Mayor Ed Lee presumably is re-elected and/or until the pilot program is completed in January 2016. At which point a permanent program will most likely be considered.

AB 61

Then in late January 2015, coalition members discovered that on December 12, 2014, a Republican Assemblymember from Orange County had introduced legislation to amend the vehicle code to permit the operation of “discrete” private vehicles in public bus stops upon agreement with local transportation authorities. Travis Allen of Huntington Beach specifically mentioned San Francisco in the first sentence of his legislative Fact Sheet.

Coalition members got organized.  The following partial list of organizations has come out in opposition to AB 61: California Walks; D5 Action; Gray Panthers of San Francisco; San Francisco Tomorrow; Save Muni; the San Francisco Latino American Democratic Club; Senior and Disability Action; the California Association of Retired Americans; the FDR Democratic Club; the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club; the Potrero Hill Democratic Club; the Richmond District Democratic Club; the San Francisco Green Party; Unite Here Local 2; United Educators of San Francisco; and Upper Noe Valley Neighbors.

The Lawsuit

The lawsuit, meanwhile, has begun.  Motions have been filed and heard and trial dates set.

The army of lawyers is making some interesting arguments:

1) That Google, Apple, Genentech, and so on should be dismissed as real parties to the case (because they aren’t? Because they have no real financial interests at stake?);

2) That the introduction of AB 61 is irrelevant; and,

3) That if the city slaps up some signs on some bus stops that the pilot program is perfectly legal.
From the point of view of the plaintiffs, all these arguments appear to be a deliberate misreading of the law.

Regarding the last one, a separate vehicle code regulates signs, but nowhere in that particular part of the vehicle code are there any signs for private carriers operating in public bus stops as a part of a pilot program or authorized private transit system.

The trial on the merits of the vehicle code case will be heard on June 22, and the trial on the merits of the CEQA case will be heard on June 29.

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Today I was in a high school US History class and got to give a brief refresher course on the progress of civil rights from the 14th Amendment (equal protection under the law) to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (no discrimination in places of public accommodation) and the Americans with Disability Act (accessibility – bus drivers complain that they cannot pull up to the curb to pick up seniors and people with disabilities when private buses block their way).  Private vehicles in public bus stops also slow down Muni and may contribute to documented citywide economic losses due to poor on-time performance.

And then there’s just the plain inequity of the system.  Everyone else who pulls into a Muni stop gets dinged $271.

Public transportation in affordable and walkable communities is going to be an essential part of combatting climate change and should now be an essential part of combatting income inequality.  Private, for-profit corporations could do a world of good if they took their billions and built workforce housing and helped create a world-class regional transit system available to everybody.

In the meantime, concerned citizens can send an email to stopab61@sonic.net to get the contact information for Travis Allen, and the long list of Assembly Transportation Committee members (and the San Francisco state legislators).

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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  76. Assemblymember Travis Allen pulled AB 61 from the agenda on April 27. It will now be heard in committee on May 4. We have no idea what kind of shenanigans have been going down in Sacramento, but you can be sure that Silicon Valley is pulling out all the stops to get this bill out of committee.

  77. Is curb space valuable real estate? Sure. But the city has many hundreds of miles of it, and much of it is given away for free, first-come first-served. If a company makes decent use of it, in a way that benefits at least a few dozen residents, and is willing to pay on top of that– that seems pretty acceptable to me.

  78. You clearly intended to suggest you were a Muni rider. If you don’t ride a line then it is not “your line.”

    Even if the worst case was as you suggest–and quite evidently you have no basis to characterize it and have indeed failed miserably to do so–that “two minutes” gets multiplied by each day the delay occurs and is also compounded with each missed transfer down the line; upto 20 minutes a pop.

    This is about hating private incursion into the public realm; this is about common thievery perpetrated by those who have the means to be honest.

  79. No Sam, what I am really saying is the majority DON”T get what they want, they get the scraps from the 1%’s table, and they are happy with them because they don’t realize they could have the whole hog if they only voted for people who weren’t self-seeking opportunists. And yes, I have to deal with it; unfortunately, so does the rest of planet. For now…..

  80. What you are really saying is that the majority are wrong and that you know better and are right.

    I feel sure that is comforting for you but, given that this is a democracy so you cannot be dictator, it means that the majority get what they want and you have to deal with that

  81. If that were true, government would work for the benefit of the people, corporations and “conservatives” would have ethics, and pigs would fly.

  82. “But if only wealthy people can afford to move in and lower-income people are being forced out or prevented from moving in, then only the cars of rich people are being removed from the road. Displaced lower-income people are in all likelihood moving to suburbs less well-served by mass transit.”

    Doesn’t this work the other way around, too? Are the wealthy people not also living in “suburbs less well-served by mass transit” before they displace low-income residents, supposedly because their home is near a shuttle stop?

  83. Assemblymember Travis Allen has pulled AB 61. It will not be heard in committee on Monday, April 27. I have heard that if a bill does not make it out of a policy committee in the first house by April 29, the bill dies (at least for the year). I hope indeed that we have killed state-level efforts to privatize and capitalize a valuable public asset.

  84. If the general question being deliberated is, at bottom, what is public property?, then my contribution is this. We need to consense about principles. I suggest two principles: 1) that if something exists independent of human beings then it is part of the commonwealth and can’t in a moral or economic sense be rightfully privatized (private use may be secured conveying to community the opportunity cost to society of permitting that private use of the commons); 2) that if society creates monopoly, the value of the monopoly needs to be paid in full to community.

    As this relates to the present issue I would say that parking spaces should be rented out at market rates 24/7, from free to whatever keeps at least one space per block available at any given time, with residential neighborhoods in dense urban areas such as SF governed by parking permits rated at a more realistic $60/month or so. Bus stops are currently occupied by car drivers such as myself on a drop-off and pickup basis liable to fines for impeding MUNI. The same principle should apply to Google busses: no fee for use, but no more fine grace period than a car would have–less, in fact, because a big bus impedes transit flow more than a single car.

  85. The city is empowered to grant special exemptions to classes of vehicles based on a pressing public policy priority.

    What would be wrong would be to enforce tech shuttles more stringently than other classes of road user just because progressives hate tech and success

  86. Was that when Lee beat Avalos 60/40?

    Or when his approval rating persistently held around 65%?

    Or when everyone on the left thought he was so popular that they were scared to run against him in 2015?

  87. I never said that I took the bus on my line. I said I know how often it runs.

    What is the big deal here? Worst case a muni bus takes an extra minute or two. So freaking what? They are ponderously slow for all kinds of other reasons and might be even slower if each tech shuttle were replaced with 40 cars.

    Why dont you guys admit that this is all about you hating tech and success?

  88. Ridiculous response on your part. Rush hour is the very time when obstructions to the public transit lines creates the greatest havoc. Buses are running at full capacity and when one line is late it has a snowball effect as its passengers are forced to transfer onto overloaded buses while other buses are underutilized. To not be causing any problem for the transit system and its riders, the Googlies shouldn’t be anywhere near the stops during rush hour.

    ps: “on my line”…. I know you don’t ride Muni so why lie about it?

  89. The voters appear not to agree with you since they have recently rejected Avalos for Mayor and Campos for Assembly.

  90. Equity and parity between the public interest and private interests in discretionary approvals is mainstream liberalism, hardly radical anything, much less left.

  91. There is no provision in state law for not enforcing the prohibition on private vehicles parking in bus stops.

  92. No, the residents pay quite enough taxes, thank you very much.
    We get the money from those that benefit from using our infrastructure,
    human resources, and our (until recently) good name. If the corporations
    and billionaires don’t want to “give back” to the community, they can move to Bakersfield.
    This City functioned just fine before the Manhattanization Project.

  93. The progressive sinecures have created such an anti-coalition that they are the only ones allowed to play. This does not mean that the neoliberal corporate project should rule by default.

    First, the corrupt progressive sinecure has to be cleaned out so that San Franciscans can begin to organize unhindered by their saboteur ‘allies’ against the strip mining of the City.

  94. I’ve been in SF since 1985 – long before “Tech-buses”. Suggesting that MUNI is “slowed down” by these buses is a bit absurd. For decades, MUNI has always been behind schedule for so many reasons. And one cannot discount the “slow-down” impact of having the people on those shuttle-buses actually joining us on our over-crowed transit and/or streets.

    Let’s minimize us-against-them agendas. Make the shuttles pay appropriate fees to the City (and let the City profit – the tech-companies certainly are). How about making them pay the average MUNI-riders rate for each person on the bus (or some estimated busload-amount of passengers). Maximum time-periods they’re allowed to remain in the space would be good too? Oh, and make certain those bus-drivers are well-paid too – no “independent contractor” games with limitted pay, no overtime-pay and no health-care.

  95. On my line, a muni bis comes every 20 minutes.

    So for 19 minutes out of every 20, a shuttle can use that stop

    And outside of rsh hour there is no shuttle. The shuttle is maybe 10-20 times a WEEK!

    Trivial usage

  96. It is the voters who are devaluing the shills that are backed by powerful interests with designs on public resources and cash flow streams. The polling is clear.

  97. “SEIU is a cult.”

    In some respects. Having been a member I would say that the leadership is pretty close to a political cult, in the workplace the biggest fans of the union show signs of a total lack of personal agency when it comes to the union pronouncements.

    In the narrative of city politics the SEIU is just as bad as any other group when it comes to owning politicians, but that ownership us just fine with the left. Avalos / Campos being doctrinaire SEIU flunkies is a good thing, going off the progressive island is a bad thing and will result in intolerant progressive hysterics.

  98. I have no problem with free fares for residents. Let the Tourons and conference attendees pay for the privilege of being here. A “few extra millions” would just disappear into the Black Hole that is the present system. We need a few extra BILLIONS to rebuild our transportation infrastructure for the 21st Century. Something that is INNOVATIVE, and that DISRUPTS the present model.

  99. About serving the interests of anyone but themselves and their patrons, not just the poor and working class. The screwing is global and universal.

  100. I think whatever makes techie colonists leave San Francisco is a good thing–and anything that makes MUNI less viable as a public transit agency is a bad thing–but how about setting the fine by dividing $271 by the number of people who board at the stop… and doubling the number every minute the bus lingers?

  101. When elected officials vote your way they stand tall. For example when they voted for healthy San Francisco and all the other local schemes that the restaurant groups opposed.

    When they vote wrong they are easily manipulated dupes to corporate money.

    Whatever works today.

    EIR’s are essentially now for NIMBY’s to get over. Oddly when the bike plan went into effect and dude sued, the cities progressives claimed that it wasn’t needed and he was scheming. We also learned that if the EIR said that it was bad policy the city could and should do it anyways.

    This is a bitter class based complaint looking for justifications.

  102. The point is not for the public stops to be unused more than a certain percentage of the time: the point is to make sure that they are not being used when a public conveyance needs them to be open. That is the basis for the sky-high fines that people are liable for–and rich corporations should pay at least that much since the whole point of fines is to dissuade unwanted behavior.

  103. They know what it takes to be successful in our fetid swamp of false democracy: go along, get along, don’t make waves, and never, ever, make a big deal about serving the interests of the poor and working class.

  104. It underscores the effectiveness of big money at making implicit threats at anyone considering entering the race just as Lee threatened anyone who supported Peskin with losing city contracts and approvals.

  105. I’ll remember this next time some group of progressive demonstrators marches down a public street smashing windows and spray painting graffiti along the way. I look forward to hearing how enthusiastic you will be about “enforcing the law and making those who use public space pay full freight for it.”

  106. I don’t think that there’s been a contested election since the Uber deal. Campos’ pathetic coalition building skills and the relative closeness of the AD17 election did not resolve the matter decisively.

  107. Agreed, but our political landscape is one of those shaky institutions that would be hard to overcome.

    Take one example. MUNI had a few extra million a few years ago. Was it used to improve efficiency and service? No, David Campos and his cohorts gave it away to the free rides for youth program. Far bigger political payoff in handing freebies to your voting base than a long term, low-political-payoff effort like creating an efficient regional transportation system.

    Progressives have only themselves to blame for the proliferation of corporate shuttles, Uber/Lyft, fancy private buses. They’ve slowly sucked the life out of public transportation system to pay off their voting base, who aren’t too concerned about getting to work on time

  108. And the shuttles are paying to use the stops, because those whom we elected decided that is in the public interest

  109. The only person here who hates voters is you, because you seek to devalue those whom the voters choose to elect.

    Who elected you to say who should and should not win elections? I trust the voters; you do not.

  110. Elections most often reflect who purchased them. Occasionally the people poke through. This is why there is widespread distrust with the electoral system and, as noted in the FOE poll, strong support for greater enforcement and stronger controls over money in politics.

    But, please, continue to demonstrate how you hate the voters by associating yourself opposed to their priorities. You look good when you do that.

  111. Uber threatened to use its billions in capital to politically assassinate anyone who crossed them. This, to you, is democracy, bought fair and square through threats and intimidation.

  112. This is about enforcing the law and making those who use public space pay full freight for it. Nothing personal, just good business. Of course it is okay when businesses externalize their costs but bring the smelling salts should the City actually seek to externalize its costs onto business!

  113. If this were indeed the Golden City, and we were indeed in the 21st Century, we would have a transportation agency that was capable of handling ALL of the transportation needs of the residents, visitors, and most commuters. An efficient regional transportation agency would operate all public vehicles in the City, including automobile services, vans, shuttles, tour busses, etc. Revenues would go to the City, instead of various corporate coffers in the Caymans.
    I know, I know, “MUNI/SFMTA can’t even operate the existing system efficiently, what makes me think blah blah blah…..” That’s because the discussion has only been framed in 20th Century memes. Like the City itself, our institutions are built on previous structures that are….shaky. It’s way past time to start thinking of a new approach to transportation that doesn’t involve scores of competing, underperforming, polluting vehicles employing underpaid, and in many cases unqualified drivers.

  114. Google already pays the city the equivalent of 50 $271 fines a day. Makes no difference.

    This isn’t about shuttles using city bus stops that are, by definition, otherwise unused 75% of the time.

    This is about the people ON the buses. You know…’them’, ‘those people’. The ones who don’t belong here. The ones who are responsible for all of our problems. They’re different, why don’t they just go away. They should stay with their own kind, the way that nature intended.

  115. We the people decided that we should encourage bus travel by allowing more kinds of buses to use bus stops.

  116. Who put you in charge of deciding what the people really want?

    That is why we have elections – so we KNOW what the people want, without anyone’s personal bias sneaking in

  117. Yep, when citizens manage to poke through neoliberal corporate dominance to benefit the common good, that is different than corporations dominating the political process for their own narrow interests, by definition.

  118. There is no give-away. The shuttles pay a legal price for the usage.

    Non-approved vehicles can still be fined, consistent with SFPD’s enforcement priorities.

    Both are decided by those we elected

  119. Ah, so when an election goes the way you want it is a great victory for the people?

    But then it doesn’t, it is “corruption”?

    How convenient.

  120. The cycle of corruption needs to be broken from outside of the existing structures that corrupt. Part of that corrupt structure is the astroturf sinecures on the so-called ‘progressive’ side.

  121. Depends as always what you mean by fair

    Your definition is probably charge the absolute most you can

    My definition, which is also the law – charge enough to cover the cost

  122. Wrong, Sue, the city has given certain private buses an optional short-term license to use the stops in return for a fee that fully covers the cost.

  123. Your elected officials … are elected. There exists a remedy for dealing with actions by them that you find fault with.

  124. Sadly, this is a case in point of the moral bankruptcy of what passes for progressives in the Bay Area, particularly SF. Neither Left nor Liberal, they’ve become a sad nativist parody of the the antagonistic New Left of the late 60s and early 70s — at least the New Left were in possession of their critical faculties, even if the revolution they wanted to be a catalyst for was doomed to failure and their efforts counter-product.

    Instead of concentrating they’re energies on repricing the bus stops as a way of bolstering Muni financing and reversing the Tragedy of the Commons that so many city services are subject to, they’re instead going to persevere in their apparent attempt to discredit their organizations and SF progressivism generally by tenaciously battling the ‘techie’ influx.

    As if, even in the unlikely case that they can thwart the Google buses from using city bus stops, they could cause even a single ‘techie’ to decide not to move to SF or one of those already living here to move out. And as though that would even be an admiral goal. Deranged.

  125. Electeds have gleefully gifted public resources to private firms which will ensure that they are well taken care of either moving up the greased political pole or after their terms expire.

  126. Then just enforce the fines, that is a fair price. Hiring new DPT workers to do just that along private bus lines would more than pay for itself.

  127. (a) No, they didn’t. They committed to a limited time pilot program to see what the options are. (BTW, you say a LOT of things that aren’t true).

    (b) Saying “no” to the shuttles may not be the best option. I realize that this is most likely impossible for you to accept.

    (c) It’s a big state. What works for Malibu may not also work for Redding.

    (d) If your point is that local governments can’t be trusted to make this particular decision then you should have said so in your article instead of saying that the bill “essentially give away public bus stops”.

    #ABSOLUTELY #Nocredibility

  128. Our elected and appointed officials have, however, already handed off this valuable real estate to private, for-profit corporations, demonstrating that they do not have the fortitude to say no.

  129. How about $3.4 million a year for one company. In Feb 2014 Google acknowledged that the city was temporarily prohibited from charging full value so they gave the city $6.8 million to allow 2 years of free fares for low income youths:

    http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Google-says-6-8-million-for-youth-Muni-passes-5273937.php

    So the city establishes guidelines to minimize impact on Muni lines, Google gets to stop in the bus stops and the city gets $3.4 million dollars a year. Sounds like a start.

  130. The problem is that the city can’t charge a fair price. The costs, as noted, involve far more than the mere costs of administration. That means that the price will always and ever be far too low, and the demand to share bus zones far too high.

    Does the Stop crowd have alternative legislation? Sharing at a fair price could be a real win-win. In the absence of better transit, buses do take cars off the road. If their operation helps pay for better transit in the bargain, so much the better.

  131. >”a bill, AB 61, that proposes to essentially give away public bus stops to some of the wealthiest, private, for-profit corporations that the world has ever known?”

    Um…no. Sorry.

    Here is what AB 61 says:

    “This bill would also allow local authorities to permit shuttle service vehicles, as defined, to stop for the loading or unloading of passengers alongside these curb spaces upon agreement between a transit system operating buses engaged as common carriers”

    Source: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB61

    So the bill ALLOWS local authorities to permit shuttle services to use public bus stops when it makes sense for them to do so. The decision is moved from the state to the local level.

    But no, it doesn’t “essentially give away” anything.

    #zerocredibility

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