More tech shuttles on the way to San Francisco? Privatization Of Public Transportation Pushed By Democrats

More tech shuttles on the way to San Francisco? Privatization Of Public Transportation Pushed By Democrats
By Susan Vaughan and Bruce OkaMarch 5, 2015 Updated: March 5, 2015 10:47pm

In December, a Republican Assemblyman from Orange County introduced a bill specific to San Francisco. That bill, AB61, would privatize Muni bus stops by making it legal for corporate shuttle buses — the “Google” buses — to operate in public bus stops upon agreement with local transit authorities.

You might be thinking: Didn’t the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency adopt a pilot program in 2014 to permit the tech shuttles to do just that?

Yes, but in violation of the state vehicle code, which prohibits any vehicle except for common carriers (public buses and cabs) and school buses from operating in public bus stops. Members of the Coalition for Safe, Legal, and Environmental Transit are now suing to get those private buses out of the Muni stops. San Francisco Tomorrow, the California Alliance for Retired Americans, Gray Panthers and other organizations are strongly opposed to AB61.


Ask Muni drivers and they will tell you — vehicles that pull illegally into public bus stops obstruct service for senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Illegal stops in bus zones could also be hindering Muni on-time performance. The transportation agency made improvements last year — 18 miles of transit-only red carpet lanes, for example.

But on-time performance dropped from about 60 percent to 54 percent over 15 months by the second quarter of FY2015 (and is way below the mandated on-time performance goal of 85 percent). Are tech buses further slowing Muni? And at what cost?

Muni gets kids to school, workers to jobs, shoppers to stores, and museumgoers to museums. It serves as a safety net for people who are disabled, don’t own cars, can’t afford cabs, don’t have smartphones or are excluded from the private shuttles, that is, the vast majority of San Franciscans. A robust and expanded Muni is crucial to resisting growing income inequality, fighting climate change and serving our city’s increasing — and aging — population. But right now, only about 25 percent of all trips in the city are by transit. Maintaining even that modest percentage will be difficult if competition for curb space increases — and that is the expectation.

At a review of the agency’s pilot program for the shuttle buses in January, program administrator Carli Paine said that demand for permits to operate private shuttles in Muni stops was likely to increase. If AB61 passes, Paine’s prediction will undoubtedly come true — and Muni service will be degraded further.

But here’s a thought: If Mark Zuckerberg can purchase the naming rights for San Francisco General Hospital for $75 million, and Marc Benioff can donate $100 million to UCSF (thank you), then certainly almost all the tech companies now encroaching on the public right-of-way for a mere $3.67 daily fee to the city — Google, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Genentech, LinkedIn, eBay and others — can put up billions of dollars for public regional transit and billions of dollars more for workforce housing. They could make a significant dent in the Bay Area contribution to climate change — and even name expanded systems after themselves. How about the Benioff Bahn or the Zuckerberg Zephyr?

If you oppose AB61, as we do, contact the chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, at 1020 N St., Room 112, Sacramento, California, 95814, and make sure to cc your Assembly member as well.

Susan Vaughan is a Muni rider and bicyclist. Bruce Oka is a former member of the Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors, and a founding member of the Muni Accessibility Advisory Committee, a citizens advisory committee founded in 1982.