Even amid concerns from San Francisco residents and officials about the impact of private employer shuttles, San Mateo County has taken an altogether different approach — welcoming them with open arms.
County officials and regional traffic planners agree that the buses have an important role in the region’s transportation strategy: reducing traffic congestion and tailpipe emissions.
“It takes a burden off our local roadways; it also creates predictability for local traffic management,” said Ray Mueller, former chairman of the Menlo Park Transportation Commission. While Mueller would prefer to keep commuters in Menlo Park for the dinner hour, he appreciates that there are people working in the community, contributing to the economy.
But quantifying the shuttles’ role is hard. There isn’t much publicly available data about the shuttles, which are operated by a handful of large employers, typically in technology and health care. Genentech transports about 1,700 people daily via its private bus networks, spokeswoman Lisa Slater said. Its buses stop at the Millbrae BART station as well as the Park and Ride at the junction of highways 101 and 92, Slater said. Electronic Arts runs two routes daily from San Francisco, neither of which stops en route to its Redwood City offices, said Sandy Goldberg, EA spokeswoman.
Google and Facebook declined to comment on their programs, but Google’s shuttles also stop at the Millbrae BART station and near the Park and Ride, plus everywhere from Santa Cruz, Berkeley and Livermore. Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters is served by stops in Mountain View, Cupertino and Campbell.
Although San Francisco has for years contemplated some form of regulations governing the shuttles, no such plans seem to be afoot in San Mateo County. Online maps suggest that Google’s shuttles use SamTrans bus stops, a practice that has been contentious in San Francisco. But transit officials are unaware of any such usage, system spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann said.
Nor do the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s long-term goals include specific, direct plans for private buses, said John Goodwin of the MTC. That’s because private buses don’t request state and federal funding, Goodwin said.
But the MTC does take private buses into account, at least to some extent.
“We’re aware of the phenomenon,” Goodwin said. “It’s baked into the cake as part of the 25-year planning horizon. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and my guess is that in the next 25 years it’s entirely possible we’ll see more companies adopting shuttle buses.”
But, at least for the moment, county officials are pleased that the private buses are getting cars off the road.
With more than 300,000 people commuting in and out of San Mateo County every day, transporting workers is an ongoing challenge, said John Ford of Commute.org. Private buses, when operating at near full capacity, help free up crowded roadways, Ford said.