Emails show ‘handshake agreement’ for tech buses using SF transit stops 

click to enlarge Muni stop
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Emails between shuttle provider Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation refer to a “handshake agreement to use Muni stops,” such as this one on Columbus Avenue.
Emails from The City’s transit agency over the past three years indicate that a “handshake agreement” exists for commuter shuttles to use Muni stops without being cited.

The correspondence also shows that there was internal discussion at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency about whether to ticket for the illegal use of the public-bus facilities, while companies and their lobbyists called for leniency and requested citation dismissals.

The inquiries include emails sent to the SFMTA by shuttle providers and the companies that use shuttles.

Viewed as symbols of gentrification, shuttle buses that carry workers in tech and other industries, along with students, to the Peninsula or within The City have recently sparked protests in San Francisco. But for years, they have been a headache for residents, motorists, bicyclists and Muni riders.

A batch of emails among transit officials, residents and company representatives shows the tensions that were simmering on and off the streets as the SFMTA worked on regulations for shuttles that use Muni stops.

Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation, a large provider of corporate shuttles, sent a Jan. 24 email to Ed Reiskin, SFMTA transportation director, after $3,000 in fines were received since April 2013.

“As you probably know, Bauer’s IT was an early provider of corporate commuter shuttle transportation dating back nearly ten years. At that time, we entered into a handshake agreement with SFMTA to use Muni stops,” wrote Michael Watson, Bauer’s vice president of marketing.

In an earlier email, Watson also referenced an “agreement.”

“As I assume you know, we have had a ‘handshake’ agreement with SFMTA for many years that allowed us to use the stops under a ‘Muni First’ condition,” the email said.

On Tuesday, Watson declined to comment on the emails.

“I’m not able to provide you with any comment on any of that,” he said, noting that, “It’s an extremely sensitive thing.”

Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesman, said his agency was “not aware of any handshake agreement.”

“In looking at the documents, you can see the agency enforced the best it could without a specific policy in place, especially in addressing safety concerns and delays to Muni,” Rose said. “Not having a policy in place created confusion for all parties involved, including the shuttle providers, enforcement and any other official.”

That confusion was evident in the emails when companies complained about enforcement.

In an April 2012 email, Carli Paine, an SFMTA project manger, wrote to Lea Militello, an agency director of enforcement, asking what to do about Google citation complaints.

“Google keeps getting tickets at Columbus and Union for loading/unloading in a Muni zone. They have asked me (via a PR firm they have working for them) if I can communicate to PD/PCOs that they are participating in our work to develop solutions for shuttles. I think they want to be exempt from tickets during the policy development process,” Paine wrote. “PD/PCOs” refers to police and SFMTA parking control officers.

The identified representative of Google was lobbyist Ross Guehring of the well-known local firm Barbary Coast Consulting, who wrote in an April 10, 2012, email, “I think it would go a long way if these tickets could somehow be reined in during this policy development process.”

The email also included a request to have several tickets dismissed.

Rose said that to his knowledge, none of the tickets were dismissed and no parking control officers were ever directed to not issue citations.

In fiscal year 2012-13, there were 4,262 bus-zone citations issued, but it’s not known how many went to shuttle operators.

On Jan. 21, the agency’s board of directors approved an 18-month pilot program that will allow shuttles to use 200 Muni stops for $1 per stop per day. A determination that the program didn’t need to undergo an extensive environmental review is being appealed to the Board of Supervisors, with a vote scheduled for April 1.

An appellant in the case is Cynthia Crews of the SF League of Pissed-Off Voters. On Tuesday, she said a “handshake agreement” has seemingly existed for sometime, given the lack of enforcement, and that the pilot program is just a “wink and a nod.”

“They ask for forgiveness rather than permission, and it’s a sense of entitlement,” Crews said of the shuttle culture. “We haven’t seen any evidence that there was the same level of enforcement of the buses as there were for individuals who stopped in public-bus stops. There had to have been some handshake agreement that they would look the other way.”

Critics of shuttles want the agency to charge more for use of the stops. Under state law, such a pilot can only charge enough to recoup costs of running the program.

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