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Friday, November 13, 2015

The Google Bus is on Trial; May Be Too Late to Stop

Posted By on Fri, Nov 13, 2015 at 2:13 PM

click to enlarge google_bus_trial.jpg
The city's much-appreciated, much-loathed tech shuttle program is on trial today.

San Francisco, recall, allows the shuttle buses that ferry tech workers to far-flung campuses in Silicon Valley to use the city's Muni bus stops for a tiny fee — $3.55 per stop, to be exact, or less than a round-trip fare on Muni ($4.50, these days). 

That arrangement irked a lot of people, some of whom went as far as to block buses during the commuter hour to get their point across. And some of those same people — in this case, housing activists and one of the city's biggest labor unions —  have sued to block the bus program entirely.  

The litigants' argument to stop the shuttle program permanently is an old one. They claim that the city failed to adequately study the environmental impact of the Google buses — including the impact on housing prices, and subsequent evictions and displacement.

Will it work? If so, it might not matter: the city is also slated to make the tech bus program permanent next week.

The tech buses take workers to their cubicles at Apple, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and elsewhere, but they're not technically Google buses. They are, for the most part, operated by third-party companies that contract with the tech firms, under work conditions — hours, pay, organization — that are debatable at best. 

But that's not at issue here. The bus issue, for now, is whether the city violated the state's well-used California Environmental Quality Act when instituting the bus program. And the plaintiffs are using an expanded definition of environmental impact, seeing if displacement can be added to the list of impacts.

Meanwhile, the city's Municipal Transportation Agency will vote on Tuesday to make the program permanent. It's unclear how the trial's result would impact that. That's up to the judge.

CEQA, remember, is often used by anti-development types to block new construction that — for whatever reason: shadows, rich people, poor people — is deemed unwanted.

If the judge rules in the plaintiffs' favor, of course, and if displacement becomes part of CEQA, look for that to be used much, much more often.
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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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