The commuter buses take about 17,000 passengers a day from their
homes in San Francisco to dozens of technology companies based in
Silicon Valley, south of the city.
The 18-month pilot program, which the San Francisco Municipal
Transportation Agency unanimously approved, comes as the buses have
become high-profile targets to activists upset about rising housing
Hours before the meeting on Tuesday, protesters blocked two
technology company buses in San Francisco, according to media
reports. Several of Google's buses have been blocked by protesters
in recent weeks, including an incident in Oakland in which the
window of a Google bus was shattered.
While many critics say the private "luxury buses" should pay, they
blasted the current program as grossly insufficient.
"Charging $1 per bus per stop is a joke," said Cynthia Crews, a
representative of the San Francisco League of Pissed-Off Voters, one
of roughly three dozen members of the public who commented on the
proposal at the meeting.
The city estimates the fee will raise $100,000 per company that uses
the buses, or about $1.5 million total.
Several Google employees as well as employees who said they worked
for shuttle companies appeared before the board to voice support for
the pilot program. Some noted they would otherwise be forced to
drive a car to work, contributing to traffic and harming the
Google said it would work with the transportation agency on its
shared goal of providing efficient transportation around San
"We believe the pilot program is a critical step in that direction,"
the company said in an email.
Apple and Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for
The buses have become among the most visible symbols of
what some complain is the technology-driven gentrification of San
Francisco, with young, well-paid tech workers forcing out less
affluent residents. In addition, critics say some city policies,
including tax breaks, are too generous to the technology industry.
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"I have seen shuttle buses running through my neighborhood for years
using regular stops and getting away with it while regular drivers
are fined for using MUNI stops," said a woman speaking to the board
who described herself as a community volunteer. Some noted that the
fine for parking in a public bus zone is $271, and suggested that
the city collect that amount for all the past years the buses have
used the bus zones.
Until now, the tech companies such as Google, Facebook Inc and Apple
have not paid San Francisco for the right to use public bus zones
when they pick up and drop off their employees.
State law forbids the city from collecting more than the cost of
providing the service, officials said. But Crews, of the San
Francisco League of Pissed-Off Voters, said the city could find
other ways to get a greater payment from the companies.
Members of the transportation board acknowledged that the buses had
become caught up in a broader debate about housing afford ability
and cost of living, which they said was beyond the scope of their
"At the end of the day, this is a transit issue and we're better off
with something than nothing," said Malcolm Heinicke, the board's
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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