At another time, regulation of the private buses would have been a small neighborhood story. For years the private buses have gone through areas that include Noe Valley and the Castro district, and neighbors were up in arms about them — especially the noise and the routes through small streets where other buses do not drive.
As The City and regional economy recovered from the Great Recession, the number of buses increased. They also took on a new symbolism. Along the way, they were dubbed the Google buses and portrayed as emblematic of the gentrification that high-paid tech workers were causing in San Francisco neighborhoods.
Just weeks after two high-profile protests around tech buses in San Francisco — a Google bus and an Apple bus — Mayor Ed Lee and Transportation Director Ed Reiskin of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, alongside other city leaders, announced the fee structure that will charge the private shuttles to use 200 Muni stops throughout The City.
Housing and anti-eviction advocates quickly attacked the fee, which is $1 per stop per day. But state law prevents the SFMTA from charging any fee greater than the cost of administering the program. Any larger fee would have to go to the ballot.
A second point that became lost in the debate is the original shuttle debate: private companies illegally using public infrastructure. The SFMTA was studying the issue of private shuttles before the big tech influx to The City to address concerns surrounding transportation — not the housing issues to which such transportation may lead.
The current and future housing issues facing San Francisco will require multipronged fixes. Charging private shuttles to operate in The City, if that is something voters want, could play a role in the solution, but it is not a cure-all. It also could have negative consequences such as more people driving on local roads and highways.
In the end, it would be best to remember that offering solutions will be more beneficial for the future of The City than merely demonizing government agencies, officials and certain businesses.