A pilot program to legalize the use of Muni stops for commuter shuttles might never launch now that labor leaders and tenant advocates have filed a lawsuit against San Francisco and several tech giants arguing that the plan violates California environmental and traffic laws.
The buses are often viewed as symbols of gentrification in The City triggered by the booming technology industry.
Plaintiffs' attorney Richard Drury said they will also consider filing a preliminary injunction to ask a judge to prevent the pilot from launching until the lawsuit is settled. All of this comes after the Board of Supervisors voted 8-2 on April 1 to reject an appeal filed by The City's largest public-employee union and community advocates to require an environmental review of the pilot.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency had in January approved an 18-month pilot program to charge commuter shuttles, commonly referred to as tech buses, to use Muni stops, which they had been doing illegally for about a decade.
The program charges a fee of $1 per stop per day for use of up to 200 of Muni's thousands of stops citywide. It is scheduled to begin July 1.
The City contends that the pilot is exempt from environmental review because its intent is data collection.
The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court, asks a judge to prevent the commuter shuttle program from going forward as conceived. It argues California Vehicle Code only allows public buses to pull into red zones or Muni bus stops. The lawsuit also alleges that an environmental review must take place to address impacts ranging from displacement of tenants to pollution.
San Francisco and companies such as Google, Apple and Genentech, which offer commuter shuttle service in The City, along with shuttle providers like Bauer's Intelligent Transportation, are targets of the lawsuit.
If the lawsuit prevails with the red-zone argument, The City would need to either change state law or craft a different program, such as using white zones or creating specially designated stops, for a program to go forward.
The shuttles carry workers in tech and other industries, along with students, to the Peninsula or to locations within The City.
As part of the effort to bring awareness to the rising cost of living in San Francisco and displacement of longtime residents, numerous protests have been staged in the past several months to block the shuttles from leaving stops.
"These buses are having devastating impacts on our neighborhoods, driving up rents and evictions of longtime San Francisco residents," said Sara Shortt of the tenant advocacy group Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, one of the organizations involved in the lawsuit. "We've protested in the streets and taken our plea to City Hall to no avail. We hope to finally receive justice in a court of law."
Alysabeth Alexander, vice president of politics for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, added that, "Time and time again, we have seen a double standard from Mayor Ed Lee. He has one set of rules for the tech industry and another set of rules for the rest of us.
"In the last three years," she said, "The City issued over 13,000 citations to vehicles in red zones, but only 45 were issued to the tech buses."
The Bay Area Council, a regional organization that represents the interest of companies such as Google, called the lawsuit "misguided and misdirected."
"The groups behind this lawsuit would be better served focusing on the real problem of how we create more housing and develop sufficient public transit alternatives to serve everyone," said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the council.
"The mayor agrees with the [Board of Supervisors]; the pilot program should continue," said mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey. She added that the mayor is working on the housing challenges with a plan that has already begun to build 30,000 units within six years, and Lee thinks the pilot is the path toward a "good transportation policy."
Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos both supported the appeal.
"I felt at the board hearing, and I have heard through the grapevine, that they have a strong position," Avalos said of the litigants.