Protestors are physically stopping Google’s employee buses in the streets of San Francisco because they view the vehicles as elitist, part of the gentrification of San Francisco that is pricing out non-tech workers.
The argument against them goes like this: Google employees who might normally live nearer to Mountain View can live in the city because of the buses. The influx of Google employees in the city has driven up rent prices. And their private buses use public bus stops, clogging up the public bus system.
Google is rubbing locals’ noses in it by jacking up rents through increased demand, and by cloistering its pampered workers inside a private bus fleet.
This tweet, from Hannah Levintova, a Mother Jones editor, is typical:
So one regular human= $US2 per Muni ride, expires after 2 hours. Entire bus full of fancy Google humans= $US1 per Muni stop, per day. Mmmk.
— Hannah Levintova (@H_Lev) January 21, 2014
The list of why people hate the private shuttles goes on and on.
Protestors have issued concrete demands, and leaked memos from the company offering talking points about how to talk about the buses at a hearing at city hall, including saying things like “I am a shuttle rider, SF resident, and I volunteer at…”
(The implication of the ellipses, of course, is to make the talking point their own in a “insert your own example of do-gooder-ness here” sort of way.)
The talking points — even the fact that they have talking points — is pretty clumsy. It looks like AstroTurf lobbying. But some of the points make sense. It’s just that their logic is lost under the sea of ick that washes over you when you read a memo urging employees to act politically on behalf of their employers.
But hold on. Google is, in fact, doing the very best thing it could possibly do in terms of public transportation in the San Francisco Bay Area.
For starters, the buses are getting cars off the road. According to a statement from MUNI, 35,000 people are using private shuttle services to and from work per day. Fewer cars means less pollution. And let’s face it, the West Coast can use a little help. A new study claims that pollution from China is hitting the West Coast, adding an extra day of smog a year to some cities.
People are moving to San Francisco in droves, and they’re not going to stop because they can’t get to work. They’re just going to drive. What’s worse, a private bus in your lane or 50 BMWs?
San Francisco is finally going to charge the companies to use public bus stops, among other rules and regulations that have thus far not been implemented. It’s a good start, granted one that probably should’ve been handled years ago, when the shuttle system began. But more can be done.
Here are three things Google should also do:
- Influence other companies to offer free shuttle service. Google isn’t alone, and if it can win the PR war, it could inspire other companies. In fact, one of the first companies to offer free shuttle service to its campus outside of San Francisco was biotech firm Genentech, which claims that its employees and Bay Area roads have been spared 100 million miles of commuting since its program began in 2006.
- Instead of using public bus stops, Google can build its own. Hey, if Four Barrel Coffee can have a “parklet” outside of its coffee shop on one of the busiest streets in the city, why can’t Google build a bus “stoplet”?
- Figure out a system that lets others use the shuttles. In an age of Airbnb and Uber surge pricing, I’m sure they can come up with a system that allows other people to use the shuttles to get to their jobs in the South Bay that perhaps don’t yet offer shuttle service.
Shuttling people to work is a good thing. And this is just the beginning, as Google is now offering a free ferry service for its employees, as well.