Google Employee Bus Protested in San Francisco

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-12-10

Google Employee Bus Protested in San Francisco

A Google commuter bus that whisks employees to and from their San Francisco neighborhoods to their workplace some 34 miles away in Mountain View, Calif., was blocked from proceeding by a group of protestors who oppose the Google buses for traffic and economic reasons.

The incident was reported in a story by Reuters, which said that the stoppage highlighted "many residents' growing concern that an influx of affluent technology workers is driving up costs in the city."

The dozen protesters carried hand-lettered signs with messages against the use of the buses, according to a separate report by The San Francisco Chronicle. The event was reportedly organized by the San Francisco anti-gentrification group, Heart of the City. The group's slogan on its home page reads: "Tech boom 2.0 is busting the heart of San Francisco. Fight back to save our city refuge & neighborhoods!"

The group's Website says that it opposes the use of such commuter buses by companies like Google, Facebook and Apple because they use city streets, tie up traffic and don't pay their share of city costs and fees, according to the site.

"We're stopping the injustice in the city's two-tier system where the public pays and the private corporations gain," the group states on its Website. "Rents and evictions are on the rise. Tech-fueled real estate speculation is the culprit. We say: Enough is Enough! The local government, especially Mayor Lee, has given tech the keys to shape the city to their fancy without the public having any say in it. We say, let's take them back!"

The group says on its Website that a key complaint with the use of the private commuter buses by large technology companies such as Google is that they "use over 200 [San Francisco] MUNI stops approximately 7,100 times in total each day (Monday-Friday) without permission or contributing funds to support this public infrastructure. No vehicles other than MUNI are allowed to use these stops. If the tech industry was fined for each illegal use for the past 2 years, they would owe an estimated $1 billion to the city. We demand they PAY UP or GET OUT!"

To bolster its claims, the group states that if those fines were collected it would provide $1 billion in revenue to the city that could be used for affordable housing initiatives, eviction defense programs, public transit service improvements and legislation initiatives to prevent speculators from using existing laws to evict residents so that higher rents could be charged for properties.

"We want a San Francisco where people can afford to live," the group states on the site. "The city needs to declare a state of emergency, stop all no-fault evictions, and prevent tech companies from running buses in residential neighborhoods, which is driving up rents (up to 20% along their route)."

Google Employee Bus Protested in San Francisco

An email inquiry from eWEEK to the Heart of the City was not immediately returned on Dec. 10.

"Advocates of the buses say they ease traffic on already clogged highways as workers give up driving individual cars for the convenience of riding in the buses, which usually come with plush seats and WiFi," Reuters reported. "Foes say the buses jam up municipal bus stops and remove potential customers from cash-strapped public transportation systems, including regional rail service, that could use their revenue."

Proposed rules that would address the issue of such commuter buses and the use of public bus stops are being written now, Paul Rose, a spokesman for The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, told Reuter in an email. "The proposed policy balances the need to minimize impacts on Muni with the benefits that shuttles provide by taking thousands of cars off the street," Rose told Reuters. The proposals are expected to go before the transportation agency in January, and if the rules are approved, a pilot test will go into effect in the summer, according to Rose.

In a reply to an eWEEK inquiry about the incident, a Google spokesperson wrote in an email, "We certainly don't want to cause any inconvenience to SF residents and we and others in our industry are working with SFMTA to agree to a policy on shuttles in the city."

The Google workers who were sitting on the bus during Monday's protest apparently sat in the bus and sent tweets and other messages out about the protest, Reuters reported.

This was the second time recently that Google activities were in San Francisco's local headlines with some controversy.

Since late October, when the presence of two Google barges at opposite ends of the nation was first reported all over the Internet, the company has been very quiet about their intent. That, of course, inspired a flurry of attention and guesswork by pundits, news reporters and local officials about the barges.

In early November, Google finally issued a brief and vague description of what was going on. "Google Barge ... A floating data center? A wild party boat? A barge housing the last remaining dinosaur? Sadly, none of the above," according to a statement sent to eWEEK by a Google spokesperson in response to an email inquiry. "Although it's still early days and things may change, we're exploring using the barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology."

The barge Google is referring to in its statement is in San Francisco Bay, while a second barge in Maine's Portland Harbor apparently is not being discussed so far by Google.

Since Google's statement to eWEEK, news reports indicate that the development of the project has essentially been put on hold while local governmental and marine agencies determine if the floating barge meets legal requirements and other regulatory concerns. Permits that are needed for such a project apparently have not been secured, so the review process will likely delay Google's plans to open the barge until later in 2014, the reports state.

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