SF plans to charge tech buses for using Muni stops in pilot program 

In the past several years, a proliferation of commuter shuttles — some taking tech workers to Silicon Valley and others to employers within The City — have illegally used Muni bus stops and caused delays in a transit system that is equal in size to nearly all its Bay Area counterparts collectively.

Now the shuttles — which together form a “midsize transit agency in the Bay Area,” Muni Transportation Director Ed Reiskin said — would be allowed to use bus stops for a fee under an 18-month pilot program transit and city officials formally announced Monday.

Set to go before the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors Jan. 21, the proposal would allow the shuttles to use 200 of the more than 2,500 Muni stops for $1 per stop per day. Each commuter shuttle would be issued a unique identification placard and be expected to provide data for evaluation. An existing fine of $270 for using a Muni stop in violation would become easier to enforce under the pilot.

The program is designed to bring order to “happenstance” on the streets — shuttles using bus stops without regulation, Mayor Ed Lee said.

The program “may not be enough, fast enough for everybody, but I think we need to do it in a coordinated way,” he said.

The proposal comes weeks after Google and Apple bus blockades Dec. 9 and Dec. 20 in the Mission district that were staged by activists dubbing themselves the San Francisco Displacement and Neighborhood Impact Agency.

“Thousands of San Franciscans rely on these shuttles to get to work and we need to stop politicizing their ability to do that,” Supervisor Scott Wiener said of the protests.

In addition, the shuttles eliminate at least 45 million vehicle miles traveled and 761,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year from the region’s roads and air, according to business advocacy group the Bay Area Council.

The pilot had been in the pipeline since 2011, when the San Francisco County Transportation Authority released a report detailing the commuter bus impact on The City’s traffic infrastructure. The report took an inventory of the growing number of shuttles and found they played a valuable role in The City’s transportation system, but required policy guidance and improved management.

Then in 2012, the SFMTA collected data from commuter shuttles, rider surveys and field observations. It found that an estimated 14,000 riders per day used shuttles, with about 350 individual shuttles operating per day using 250 stop locations, be they Muni or private property loading zones, said SFMTA project manager Carli Paine.

The Bay Area Council, however, found that there are more than 35,000 boardings per day in The City. About three dozen shuttle providers and companies — from tech to biotech to academic institutions — are expected to participate in the program, Paine said.

The $1.5 million projected to be generated during the 18-month pilot would strictly cover the costs of administering and enforcing the program and includes investment to improve select stops. The SFMTA is not allowed to profit off the program.

Companies that use shuttles — Google, Apple, Genentech, Facebook and Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation — were present for the announcement.

“We actually are very excited about this program and have been working with SFMTA for the past year,” said Carla Boragno, Genentech’s vice president of site services.

Veronica Bell, senior manager of public policy and government affairs for Google, added: “We see this pilot program as a good first step.”

But Erin McElroy, an organizer with Eviction-Free San Francisco, claimed the Google and Apple bus protests “were effective somewhat in generating this conversation.”

“The pilot is better than allowing commuter shuttles to use the Muni stops for free, but it’s a wider systemic problem of gentrification and displacement,” she said. “Obviously, charging tech to use the bus stops is not going to solve that problem.”

click to enlarge Google bus
  • courtesy image
  • A map shows Muni stops where shuttle buses will be allowed to stop during the new program.

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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