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SF Supes Do Something About the Tech Buses

January 8, 2014

After a long holiday break (Easter-New Year’s) in which I was able to get a few things out of the way (graduation, the bar, moving) I’ve resolved to start writing here again. Here’s hoping that results in a blog a month at least.


As those who live in the Bay Area know, the tech buses in San Francisco have created quite a fuss. The skyrocketing tech economy (No revenue? Is $3 billion enough?) has pushed rents into the stratosphere, displacing long-time residents and changing the character of the city and its neighborhoods (according to some). Some of the people negatively affected by those changes have seized upon the private buses that take tech workers to their jobs in Silicon Valley as the most apparent symbol of the changes the tech economy is wreaking (according to some) on the city. Last month, protestors blocked a Google bus in the Mission District and staged an argument with a fake Googler. More recently, windows of a tech shuttle were broken at a similar protest in Oakland.

Now, does breaking windows and staging a fake argument further the argument of those affected by or apprehensive about the effects of the tech economy? Not particularly. Nonetheless, the protestors at the Mission protest did make a good point: the tech buses are using city bus stops and Muni service. Tech buses (or those of other institutions like the Academy of Art) shouldn’t benefit from a double standard for enforcement bus stop violations. The companies that use the buses were brazenly violating that law. That’s not fair.

Thankfully, the Board of Supervisors decided to do something about it: yesterday, they announced a pilot program allowing private buses to use certain city bus stops in return for a fee. The most-trafficked MUNI stops will not be included and the fee will only be $1 per day per stop. (Note: The SFGate article states the fees are limited to the cost of implementing because of state law, which I would guess is another insidious effect of Prop. 13.) So, now the tech buses will have to pay their fair share, at least for their most direct burdens on city infrastructure, and their routes will be managed to reduce their disturbance to MUNI commuters and quieter neighborhoods.

Will this address the fundamental issues underlying the protestors’ complaints? Not at all. The problem isn’t, of course, the tech buses themselves. It’s the tech economy’s exacerbation of inequality in our region and its failure to raise everyone’s boats, in spite of the high tide that tech workers are riding. This dynamic is manifested acutely in the San Francisco housing market, something the limited funds raised by the program–which, again, by law can only cover the cost of implementation–cannot ameliorate.

Nonetheless, the program is a step in the right direction. The tech economy presents new challenges to our government as to how it can adequately and efficiently serve all its constituents. (See, e.g., e-commerce and the sales tax.) Though getting people to work is decidedly a 19th-century problem, even there government needs to be creative to meet those challenges.

(Or, we could go take a tip from the 20th century and build BART down the Peninsula.)

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