SAN FRANCISCO -- City transportation officials gave the green light to a new pilot program that will regulate private shuttles operated by Google and other tech giants and charge fees for the buses to use city bus stops.
The pilot program, slated to take effect in July, would charge the companies a $1 fee for each stop made by the shuttles. A transportation official estimated that medium-sized tech companies would pay about $80,000 a year and larger companies would pay more than $100,000.
The program would also control where the shuttles can load and unload passengers. The shuttle buses have caused traffic congestion by blocking city bus stops, particularly at rush hour.
The Silicon Valley shuttles have become a vehicle for growing income inequality, soaring rents and evictions and sweeping gentrification in San Francisco. And a public hearing that stretched for hours Tuesday and featured plenty of heckling from both sides of the issue reflected how contentious the shuttles –- and the growing presence and influence of tech companies and tech workers in San Francisco –- have become.
Activists want the "Google buses" that have been operating without oversight on the streets of San Francisco for years banned from using public bus stops –- or banned outright.
The meeting was held just hours after protesters blocked a pair of Google buses, hanging a sign on the side of one that read “Gentrification & Eviction Technologies.”
Google has begun dispatching security guards to monitor buses targeted by protesters. It has also explored a ferry service to transport employees from San Francisco to Silicon Valley.
Critics wanted tech companies to pay the city more -– and to address the broader economic issues as lower income people, middle-class families, small businesses and artists are driven out of the city by rising living costs.
The city cannot profit from the program, so it can only recover its costs, which grates on some San Francisco bus riders who pay $2 a passenger to ride MUNI.
San Francisco Supervisor David Campos said Tuesday that the program does not charge enough and does too little to address the displacement of people from San Francisco.
"A dollar a bus stop, as much as it is a first step, it's a proposition that simply does not go far enough," Campos said.
The city, technology companies and shuttle operators say the shuttles keep thousands of vehicles off the road and reduce noxious emissions. Shuttles ferrying Silicon Valley workers to Silicon Valley log about 35,000 trips a day.
Google and shuttle operator employees showed up alongside community activists at the public meeting to voice their support for the pilot program.
Crystal Sholts, a program manager in engineering at Google, said she moved to San Francisco from Minnesota in 2005 to chase her dream and take a contract job at the Internet giant. She said she doesn't own a car and moved to the Mission District to be near public transportation.
"Not everyone at Google is a billionaire," she said. Sholts said she is still paying off her student loans.
But protests of Google buses are becoming more and more frequent.
In December, the window of a Google bus in Oakland was shattered when a protester hurled a rock through it.
In advance of a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency hearing Tuesday to discuss charging fees for the tech industry's fleets to stop at city bus stops, a Google memo suggested employees who live in San Francisco turn out to support the proposal.
It even gave talking points to demonstrate how involved Google employees are in the local community such as "I support local and small businesses in my neighborhood on a regular basis." The memo underscored just how deep resentment of the industry now runs in San Francisco.
"This is what it looks like when the most powerful entity in the history of the Internet starts to realize people hate its guts," commented technology blog TechCrunch.