Google probably wasn't expecting its Earth-friendly overture to backfire so heavily in an environmentally conscious bastion like San Francisco. Yet ever since the company started a shuttle bus service for its San Francisco–based employees a couple of years ago, it seems as though it's been nothing but drama.
Residents from the Mission and Noe Valley have vilified the company and its unmarked private shuttles that zip commuters to Google's headquarters in Mountain View. Many Mission hipsters blame Google and its buses for gentrifying the neighborhood that prides itself on being artsy and eclectic. Next door in Noe Valley, residents are irked for different reasons. They complain that the buses, which are equipped with WiFi and air conditioning, are infecting their pristine neighborhood with congestion, noise, and pollution. "There are buses idling; we don't want that even if they run partially on biofuel," says Vicki Rosen, president of Upper Noe Neighbors.
Not to mention that some of the buses are oversized and sometimes double-parked, which is inconvenient for drivers and pedestrians along Noe's narrower streets, residents say. "Most people in my neighborhood are supportive of this kind of mass transit," Rosen says. "It's just that we want some accountability."
So accountability is what they are getting. Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who is running for mayor, decided it was time to get to the bottom of the neighborhood shuttle saga. Dufty, who is chairman of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority board, has asked the agency to analyze the pros and cons of the proliferating corporate shuttles. Although Google takes the brunt of the complaints, Yahoo, Apple, and Genentech also operate commuter buses among San Francisco, the Peninsula, and the South Bay.
As it stands, none of these corporate shuttles have agreements with the city in terms of permits or payment, says Margaret Cortes, senior planner with the Transportation Authority. That's part of the problem, she says — outside of regular traffic laws, there is no policy framework with rules or regulations to guide these shuttles.
Currently, about 2,500 city residents use the shuttles to commute to work in Silicon Valley. After surveying residents and analyzing how the buses affect neighborhoods, the Transportation Authority is expected to make recommendations later this month aimed to help balance the growing mass transit service with the needs of nearby residents. In a statement, a Google spokesman said that the company is receptive to community feedback and is "always working with governmental organizations to make sure that our shuttle program integrates well with the neighborhoods in which they run." Unfortunately, he refused to divulge his name (seriously). Maybe he should Google the word "accountability."