During yesterday's hearing, Michael Watson, the shuttle company representative, defended his company's operations, saying, "We've used Muni stops for 10 years cooperatively." It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to recast a behavior that is, in point of fact, illegal as a virtuous act of private-public collaboration. San Francisco's Curb Priority Law prohibits non-Muni vehicles from blocking bus stops, a law that carries a $271 fine. Bus blockaders say that the various tech companies owe San Francisco $1 billion in fines for their illegal use of the stops over the past decade. [...] Google, Facebook and Apple aren't facing millions in unpaid parking fines, however, because the MTA hasn't been writing the tickets. Since the shuttles began using public bus stops, they've simply flouted the law without consequences.
Not only has San Francisco allowed tech companies to violate the law with impunity, but now that public outcry has made some kind of action politically expedient, the MTA seems to have allowed the industry to write the very regulations that are supposed to rein them in. [...] Under the guise of regulating the shuttles, the program regularizes the status quo -- allowing the private buses to continue using the approximately 200 bus stops it already uses for a nominal fee. (Large employers like Google are expected to pay about $100,000 per year; were Google to be charged the $271 fine, its bill would balloon to $27.1 million each year.) [...] If Muni simply enforced its current laws instead of creating this new program, the monetary benefit to the city would be significantly higher.
This might not anger San Franciscans so much were it not for the fact that the MTA does enforce its laws, harshly, against individuals. Several speakers at the hearing had received tickets for the same behavior Google buses get away with daily -- pulling into a bus stop to drop someone off. And while the $271 fine may be insignificant to a company like Google, it's a potentially devastating sum for people struggling to get by in a city where the cost of living seems to rise by the day. [...]
This is the contradiction of the Google Bus, and it's one that should resonate across the country. The Google Bus is the embodiment of a system that indemnifies the actions of corporations while increasingly criminalizing and punishing individuals. Google and its ilk have always known that they could break the law right up until the day they were invited to make new laws. That is the power of corporate wealth, and in San Francisco as in the rest of the country, it rules supreme.
"Google and its ilk have always known that they could break the law right up until the day they were invited to make new laws."