The UC Berkeley study found that without the shuttles, almost half of surveyed employees would drive alone to work, 40 percent would move "closer to their job" and 10 percent said they would quit. Eighteen percent said they would take Caltrain.
The study also looked at the demographics of surveyed shuttle riders: 69 percent are male, 67 percent reported an income of $100,000 or more, 85 percent rent their home, and three percent have children. [...]
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.
"The elite's mass transit" versus "underfunded Caltrain." Is this really a class divide, with all the perils that class-based thinking implies? These buses have to drive to San Francisco because the geeks on board aren't willing to buy a big house in the suburbs of Silicon Valley. They want to live in a city, where they step over homeless people and deal with crowds but also have access to all that a city offers. So they're an unusual elite.
If you love inner-city living so much that you're willing to commute almost two hours a day, then I expect you're someone who's happy with the basic proposition of city life. That means that you're used to being in close proximity to strangers, so I'd guess you'd be a willing passenger on a public transit system if that transit system were useful.
So the real story here is not the upscale demands of "elites" but the story of "underfunded Caltrain" and and more generally the way that infrequent, slow and poorly connected transit systems are forcing these big employers to run so much expensive service of their own. [...]
But why should people have to commute such distances at all? In this case, it happened because a whole mass of companies decided that they all had to have vast corporate campuses that are too big to be in walking distance to anything. The critical mass of Silicon Valley congealed in the high-car age, as early icons like Hewlett and Packard outgrew their garage. Stanford University has always sat in Silicon Valley's midst like a queen bee, happy to seem the indispensable center of the burbling mass of innovation. Since then every new breakthrough firm, from Google to Facebook, has felt they had to be there.
But now, that critical mass is in the wrong place for the needs of the next generation. A few of the area's suburbs are trying to build downtowns that will give a bit of the urban vibe that younger geeks seem to value, but many of these suburbs are dominated by people who want nothing to change. So it comes down to how the next generation of internet employers choose think about how to attract top employees. Twitter made a courageous choice, moving its headquarters right into San Francisco, but Apple is digging itself deeper, building an even larger and more car-dependent fortress in its corner of the Valley.
Finally, this joke is on the lords of Silicon Valley itself. The industry that liberated millions from the tyranny of distance remains mired in its own desperately car-dependent world of corporate campuses, where being too-far-to-walk from a Caltrain station -- and from anything else of interest -- is almost a point of pride. But meanwhile, top employees are rejecting the lifestyle that that location implies.
Geeks whose brilliance lightens the weight of our lives have bodies that must be hauled 70 or more miles every day, at a colossal waste of energy and time. Is this really the future?