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Saturday, September 25, 2021

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News + PoliticsTransportationSFMTA won't ban Google buses from Geary transit lanes

SFMTA won’t ban Google buses from Geary transit lanes

Staff actually talks about 'super carpool lanes' giving private operators the right to interfere with Muni operations.

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The Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors voted Tuesday to make the transit lanes on Geary permanent.

Unfortunately, the agency didn’t make clear that those lines are only for public, not private, buses.

Google buses slow down Muni. The SFMTA doesn’t seem to care. Photo by Larry-bob Roberts

Chair Gwyneth Borden addressed staff member Lis Brisson, asking about regulation of access to transit lanes. Borden remarked, “The way the lanes work, the state regulates access [to transit only lanes], not us locally.”

She should have asked City Attorney Susan Cleveland-Knowles, who was present, about the law, not Brisson, because she’s wrong. We also regulate access to these lanes here in San Francisco.

This remark gave Brisson an opportunity to once again obfuscate the difference between “transit” and “buses.” Brisson stated that the word “bus” links up with the California Vehicle Code, which it does, ignoring the separate California Vehicle Code definition of “transit” and all other state and local laws that regulate access to transit only lanes. She even called the transit only lanes super carpool lanes. 

(Brisson addresses the legal aspects about two hours and 15 minutes into the meeting.)

But no environmental impact report has ever analyzed the impact of private bus operations on the flow of Muni, Golden Gate Transit, SamTrans, and any other public transportation systems that might one day need these lanes as part of our climate emergency response.

Brisson did say that some kind of pre-COVID observation had been done, but again, this was not included in any report.) And certainly, no environmental review document ever mentioned the term: super carpool lanes. (In fact, staff hadn’t even attached the latest “environmental review” to the documents supplied for the meeting.)

The City and County of San Francisco has no power to restrict the number of private buses — tech shuttle buses, casino buses, tour buses, Academy of Art buses, or any future Uber buses operating in general city traffic lanes.

(And let’s not forget: Uber in its IPO filings noted that part of its longterm vision is to destroy public transit and replace it with Uber buses.)

As of June 2019, 4,248 get-out-of-jail-free placards had been issued to tech shuttle buses and others (Kaiser and UCSF shuttles, for example) to operate with impunity in select public bus stops—also in violation of the vehicle code (22500.i). See Request for Information Item 190606.02. The average number of these buses with placards operating Monday through Friday was 711.

These buses operate in select parts of the city during concentrated hours. I have seen them myself obstructing Muni buses on Park Presidio and Geary, and Edward Mason has been doing yeoman’s work for years tracking these obstructions in Noe Valley. (Some people think the SFMTA should be doing this work.)

As we recover from the pandemic, these private buses are going to be back in operation, cluttering up our bus stops, driving up home prices and driving out lower income people, and now, potentially, obstructing our public buses in transit only lanes.

Compare these numbers, 4,248 and 711, to the total number of rubber-tire vehicles in the Muni fleet: According to the 2019 Annual Report, issued in January 2020, Muni had 901 rubber tire buses and trolleys operating in the entire city, 24/7.

And the SFMTA, which secretly allowed the tech buses to use Muni stops, doesn’t seem ready to enforce the rules to keep them out of transit lanes.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. aogilmore, In response:

    I don’t understand the problem. Are there that many Google busses?
    — Please note the figures that I have provided and note that it isn’t just these unlimited numbers of tech buses. It’s anything that fits the California Vehicle Code definition of a “bus,” which is not the same as “transit.” So that includes casino buses, tour buses, Academy of Art advertising buses, etc.

    I’m no fan of Google but it’s better to have the busses running than to have all of the googlers out driving.
    — Nothing is stopping these private, luxury shuttle buses from operating between San Francisco and Cupertino, Santa Clara, Menlo Park, etc (and deadheading — that is, returning empty in one direction to pick up another load of passengers_. They can still operate in the general traffic lanes, where they are legally permitted to do so.

    Where would you have the busses stop if not at bus stops? In the middle of the street? Surely even evil googlers don’t deserve to be run over! 🙂

    — Not government’s problem to figure. In an ideal world, people who work for Silicon Valley tech companies would live so close that they would be able to walk to work. But I will make a suggestion: they can rent space in privately owned parking lots instead of encroaching on the public right of way.

  2. I don’t understand the problem. Are there that many Google busses? I’m no fan of Google but it’s better to have the busses running than to have all of the googlers out driving. Where would you have the busses stop if not at bus stops? In the middle of the street? Surely even evil googlers don’t deserve to be run over! 🙂

  3. Epstein, if you wonder why Republicans can’t get elected here, remember this. Uber is a criminal enterprise that took advantage of Ed Lee who was a puppet for Republican Ron Conway.. now you want them running PUBLIC transit. Hell NO!

  4. Bad, bad decision. Wish I could find my photo of a Google bus after it pulled into a Muni stop at Haight and Divisadero, leaving the Muni bus stuck in the middle of the intersection.

  5. Hey, it looks like the transit lines will just fill up with non-private vehicles making the regular traffic flow faster than the transit lanes, in which case they will all start to drive in the same lanes. So much for transit only.

  6. Uber buses will be more efficient than Muni, just as Uber, Lift, etc, are more efficient than over regulated taxis. And, taxpayer wouldn’t be responsible for very expensive employee retirment costs.

  7. Richmondman:
    1) We have no idea how many cars one Google bus gets off the road because tech shuttle bus companies guard that information fiercely. We don’t know if a bus carries five people or 50. No idea;
    2) These private buses can still operate — in general traffic lanes;
    3) As I said in the story, we cannot restrict the number of these private buses — tour buses, casino buses, tech shuttles, Academy of Art buses (which operate empty as they are rolling advertisements), and any future Uber buses — operating on our city streets. Since the adoption of the tech shuttle program by the SFMTA, the number of tech shuttles with placards has increased from about 400 to over 4,000.

  8. There aren’t enough Google Buses on Geary to make any difference on Muni transit times on Bus only lanes. I’m glad to get 40 cars off the road for every bus.
    Also, it beats the hell out of the option. The Geary BRT would have been a total disaster.

  9. Good work as always, Sue. What we’ve got here is the taxpayers of San Francisco investing in infrastructure that gets continually reduced in scope over a period of decades only to be further diminished by serving as a subsidy for local large institutions.

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