A string of tech company buses plying the streets of the Mission. (David Gartner/Flickr)
A string of tech company buses plying the streets of the Mission. (David Gartner/Flickr)

San Francisco officials say major tech companies and shuttle bus operators have agreed to an 18-month experiment during which they’ll pay to use some Muni bus stops and take other steps to cooperate with public transit in the city.

At a press conference this afternoon at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Mayor Ed Lee said the city will issue permits to both tech companies and bus operators and charge them to use about 200 of Muni’s 2,500 bus stops. As part of the agreement, the companies and charter operators have agreed to not block Muni buses at the stops, to stay away from stops for which they don’t have permits and to stay off the city’s narrower, steeper streets.

Ed Reiskin, the director of the transportation agency, said companies will pay a dollar for every stop they make at the 200 stops — a total of about $1.5 million over the life of the 18-month pilot. Google, Genentech, Apple, Facebook and other companies are participating in the experiment along with UC San Francisco, other college campuses and some office buildings that run shuttles in the city.

The city estimates that employee shuttles account for 35,000 passenger boardings every weekday and play a key role in reducing congestion and vehicle emissions. But the shuttles — typically massive white motor coaches with dark-tinted windows, are controversial for using Muni stops without any compensation of the city’s expense to provide the stops. They’ve also become symbols in the city’s current affordable-housing crisis, as the buses are used mostly by younger technology sector workers perceived as affluent, aloof from the life of the city and responsible for displacing longer-term residents by driving up rents and home prices. Anti-eviction protesters in San Francisco’s Mission District halted tech shuttles twice in December. In a similar incident in Oakland, protesters vandalized a shuttle.

Mayor Lee acknowledged the controversy, and defended the bus services, at today’s press conference.

“I know that the more recent voices have been identifying these for purposes of political agendas and rhetoric, and I want to say the commuter shuttles have been of benefit,” Lee said. “Although they’re symbolic of other things that people are perhaps angry about, I think they provide a good service.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener, another news conference participant, said he was “thrilled” with the pilot program and the cooperation between the city, the tech companies and shuttle operators. He also said it’s time to get past the controversy over the shuttles:

We need to stop politicizing people’s ability to get to work, ’cause that is really what this is about. Thousands and thousands of San Franciscans, San Francisco residents, some people who just moved here, some people who have lived here for decades, for longer than a lot of us have lived here, thousands of San Franciscans rely on these shuttles to get to work and to earn a livelihood every day.

SFMTA Director Reiskin said the agency’s board will consider the pilot plan at its meeting Jan. 21.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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