Survey shows support for SF tech industry and its controversial buses 

click to enlarge tech shuttle
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.f. Examiner
  • A poll of 500 likely voters in San Francisco found 79 percent of participants believed tech’s growth has been good for The City, though activists criticize the industry for displacing longtime residents.
Tech buses and the workers they carry are not a symbol of San Francisco’s problems.

That’s according to a recent poll commissioned by the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored public-policy advocacy organization.

The poll, a telephone survey conducted earlier this month with 500 San Franciscans likely to vote in elections this year, centered on the tech industry and its commuter shuttles and workforce. In recent months, anti-housing-displacement activists have seized on tech as a symbol of all things bad in San Francisco, with protests staged in streets to block the commuter shuttles.

Matt Regan, the Bay Area Council’s vice president of government relations, said Tuesday that the poll was done because “there’s a lot of heat, but from my perspective, thus far not much light.”

Overall, the poll by Oakland-based EMC Research found that 57 percent of people surveyed had a favorable view of the shuttles and 79 percent said growth in the tech industry has been good for San Francisco.

“I think the story has been portrayed as one with that kind of ‘man bites dog’ element, that the birthplace of the tech industry turns on tech,” Regan said. “And I think the polling data that we shared shows that it’s actually not true.”

According to the poll, 67 percent disagreed that commuter shuttles are ruining the character of San Francisco. A consistent one-quarter of those polled were opposed to the buses, with higher opposition in the eastern neighborhoods of The City.

“It isn’t a majority, but it is probably a vocal minority,” said Ruth Bernstein, a principal with EMC Research, during a presentation Tuesday morning.

The survey, which had a margin of error of 4.38 percentage points, was conducted from March 10 to 16. Interviews were done in English and Cantonese. A demographic summary of those surveyed showed 54 percent were white, 12 percent Chinese, 7 percent Latino, 6 percent black, and 21 percent other Asian, multiracial or other.

Appellants in an appeal against a commuter shuttle pilot program to use Muni stops questioned the methodology and accuracy of the poll. The appeal says the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s 18-month pilot to allow private commuter shuttles to use a select 200 Muni bus stops for $1 per stop per day should not be exempt from an environmental impact report.

“The Bay Area Council is paid for by tech companies to promote their employee shuttles and lobby on their behalf,” said Cynthia Crews, a spokeswoman for the League of Pissed-Off Voters. “The other glaring thing is, just considering the impact of the tech buses in the Mission, it seems very suspicious to exclude Spanish-speakers.”

Rufus Jeffris, a spokesman for the Bay Area Council, said Spanish-language speakers were not included because the “number of likely Spanish-speaking [only] voters is miniscule.” Questions were randomized and intended to be bias-free, Bernstein added.

The Bay Area Council brought tech companies and the SFMTA to the table a couple of years ago and helped them agree on the terms of the pilot program.

Chris Daly, a former San Francisco supervisor who’s now a political director for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, noted that the poll results were released close to the expected April 1 vote by the Board of Supervisors on the shuttle program appeal. SEIU Local 1021 is another appellant in the appeal.

“We’re going into a [California Environmental Quality Act] hearing next week, so they manufactured a poll claiming there’s public support,” Daly said.

Sara Shortt, executive director for the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, which is also an appellant, said that if the board does not uphold the appeal, “that is when we file a lawsuit, because we believe we have an absolutely airtight argument as to why they should be doing an environmental impact report.”

The poll showed 70 percent surveyed supported a pilot program to help The City craft permanent regulations on commuter shuttles. But Shortt said their opinions on shuttles may have been formed without scientific evidence of their impacts, which the appeal seeks.

Despite the appeal, the SFMTA has remained on schedule with preparation work for the July 1 launch of the pilot, spokesman Paul Rose said.

“We developed this policy prior to the survey and believe this will be a benefit to the transportation system,” he said. “And at the same time, is what most people in San Francisco want to see, according to this survey.”

Key poll findings

45% Agree their households have benefited from recent growth in tech sector

57% View tech shuttles favorably

67% Support allowing shuttles to use limited number of Muni stops

72% View tech workers favorably

74% Agree employee shuttle buses are needed because public transit between San Francisco and Silicon Valley is inadequate

84% Agree employee shuttle buses help keep cars off roads, relieving congestion and air pollution

Age demographics: 11% age 75 or older; 10% ages 60-64; 10% ages 45-49; 10% ages 30-34; remainder all other ages

Note: 6 percent of those surveyed said they regularly use commuter shuttles (two of more times per week)

Source: EMC Research poll for Bay Area Council, March 10-16

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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