San Francisco to charge for tech buses using city stops

SF Mayor Ed Lee announces a program that would require shuttle buses used by tech companies to pay up for using stops designated for city public transit.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
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Last month, a demonstration alongside one of the tech buses contained a bit of street theater, as a union organizer pretended to be a Google employee, spouting off contempt for the city's residents. Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET
Under a new pilot program announced Monday, San Francisco will begin to charge the operators of the tech buses that pick up passengers at stops designated for the city's official public transit and shuttle commuters down to Silicon Valley, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee's office confirmed to CNET.

Those buses have become a potent symbol of the growing divide between the tech industry and residents of San Francisco and Oakland. The announcement should come as welcome news to demonstrators who have been protesting the rising rents and changing culture of the city.

Defenders of the buses argue that they help ease traffic by getting hundreds or thousands of cars off the road. Critics, though, have been upset that the shuttles block access to the city's Muni stops and force passengers onto the street to load, while using a resource funded by taxpayers.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the plans had been in the works for months, but became a more urgent issue as protests have popped up in recent weeks. One demonstration contained a bit of street theater, as someone in the crowd pretended to be a Google employee, spouting off contempt for the city's residents. Another protest in Oakland ended with demonstrators breaking the window of a Google bus.

The program, the Chronicle continued, will require the shuttle bus companies, like Bauer's and Compass Transportation, to pay a fee based on how many Muni bus zone stops they make. The thinking is that fee will be passed onto the tech firms whose employees use the buses. The program still needs the approval of the Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors, which will meet on January 21 to decide on the plan.

The program will cost the SFMTA about $1.5 million to operate over 18 months -- the same amount it is expected to generate. Due to city law, San Francisco cannot set up a fee structure that will take in more money than it costs to run the program, according to a press release from the SFMTA.

Update, January 7 at 9:22 a.m. PT: Adds more detail about the program from an SFMTA press release.