Commission on the Environment to address SF plan to charge tech buses using Muni stops 

click to enlarge tech shuttle
  • An 18-month pilot program will allow shuttles, which often haul workers to and from Silicon Valley, to use Muni stops for a small fee.
San Francisco’s Commission on the Environment will step into the tech commuter bus controversy today when a committee could decide whether to endorse The City’s plan to legalize the shuttles’ use of Muni bus stops.

While Silicon Valley technology workers who prefer living in San Francisco use the shuttles to get to their jobs, some community advocates point to the buses as a symbol of unwelcome gentrification and have staged protests blocking them.

Under an 18-month pilot program, the shuttles using Muni stops will be required to pay $1 per stop per day.

For environmentalists, getting local tech workers out of their cars and reducing automobile trips is an obvious benefit. But the battle over the shuttles is more complicated, as seen in the recent back-and-forth debate between San Francisco author Rebecca Solnit and environmental news site Grist. Among the various points of contention, Grist slights commuter bus critics for ignoring the benefits of reducing automobile trips. On the other hand, Solnit blames the tech boom for displacing residents who now must commute long distances. And she says shuttles only promote people living far away from where they work. Others lament the fact that public transit isn’t robust enough to meet the demand.

The polarizing issue leaves much for The City’s stewards of the environment to ponder today, when a commission subcommittee holds a hearing.

“We think it’s an environmentally good thing to get folks out of cars into forms of mass transportation. But we need a solution for the unintended impacts on Muni service, traffic congestion and bicyclists,” said Joshua Arce, chairman of the Commission on the Environment. “We think that this proposal is a step in the right direction but we have questions.”

John Rizzo, a member of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, said there are flaws in the proposal, including only charging a $1-per-stop fee while the fine to park at stops is $271. While city officials say state law prevents creating a fee that goes beyond cost recovery, Rizzo said The City could have forced the shuttle operators and companies to come to a negotiated agreement by simply starting to enforce the existing law. He added that shared stops with Muni are too disruptive and believes it could be wiser to have shuttle-exclusive stops.

Endorsement by the commission would help build support for the plan’s final approval. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors is scheduled to vote on the pilot program Jan. 21. The $1.5 million expected to be generated under the pilot would cover its administration and enforcement costs. Shuttles would be limited to 200 of the 2,500 Muni bus stops.

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