Those ubiquitous commuter buses carrying 35,000 tech workers between San Francisco and Silicon Valley will start paying to use public Muni stops under a new agreement reached between the city and private tech and bus companies.
The city announced the 18-month pilot project on Monday. It follows rising acrimony among people who blame the tech industry for San Francisco’s rising rents and evictions.
Some see the large white commuter buses with their heavily tinted windows as a symbol of young well-paid workers displacing middle-class families.
“I’m concerned about the gentrification that’s going on,” said Simone Evans standing near a bus stop in the city’s Mission District. “It’s mainly because of Google or Twitter.”
But city transportation leaders say their issue with the commuter buses is that they use public Muni stops to pick-up and drop-off passengers.
“That’s a lot of buses in our city that sometimes get in the way of Muni bus stops,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. “Or sometimes traveling on city streets that maybe aren’t the best for large vehicles like that to be traveling on.”
Under the new agreement, the private companies will pay a dollar per stop to use MUNI zones. Reiskin said the fees would work out to roughly $100 thousand per company during the 18-month project. He said the city hoped to collect $1.5 million to recoup the costs of the project.
In addition to charging fees, Reiskin said the city will designate 200 specific Muni zones the commuter buses can use. Buses using the zones without displaying a city-issued placard will be subject to fines.
Among the tech companies signing on to the agreement were Google, Apple, Facebook and Genentech.
“We want to make sure we’re doing this in coordination with the city,” said Carla Boragno of South San Francisco-based Genentech. “We don’t want to cause delays in Muni. And many of our employees take Muni, and take Caltrain and take Bart.”
The SFMTA Board of Directors still has to sign-off on the plan during its meeting later this month.
During an afternoon news conference, city leaders were cautious to defend tech companies blamed for the San Francisco’s economic issues. During a December protest over gentrification in San Francisco, protesters blocked one of the commuter buses as a symbol of those issues. San Francisco Supervisor Scott Weiner said the anger was misplaced.
“Thousands of San Franciscans rely on these shuttles to get to work and to earn a living every day,” said Weiner. “We need to stop politicizing their ability to do that.”
Mayor Ed Lee said the city hoped to gather data during the 18 month project, and then craft permanent rules. He said the shuttles have eliminated 45 million miles of vehicle traffic every year, while saving 761,000 metric tons of carbon emissions.
“The commuter shuttles have been of benefit,” said Lee.
“Although they’re symbolic of other things that perhaps people are angry about, I think they provide a good service.”