Investigation: SF gave the Google buses a “handshake” pass for years. Now will the violators finally get tickets?


Park wherever you want, even in the middle of the street – if you are a master of the universe

By Tim Redmond

FEB. 21, 2014– A group of activists has filed an appeal to the Municipal Transportation Agency’s deal with tech companies and their shuttle providers, which means the pilot program is on hold for the moment. That means it’s once again illegal for these giant buses to park in the Muni stops. And it raises the question:

Will the MTA and the police department now start an aggressive program to force the shuttles and their clients to pay the same $271 to park in a bus stop as anyone else? And if that happened, would the tech folks come back to the table and offer to pay more than $1 a stop?

And it has me wondering: Why has this gone on for all these years, with no official policy rules except an apparent wink-and-nod arrangement with the tech firms to allow them – and nobody else – to break the law with impunity?

Documents I’ve obtained from the MTA through a public records request offer a fascinating look into how this non-policy policy has been enforced (or mostly, not enforced) over the past two years.

Among other things, the documents show:

  • Google hired a prominent public-relations and lobbying firm to try to get the city to stop issuing bus-stop tickets.
  • A vice-president for sales and marketing at Bauer’s, which operates many of the shuttles, noted in an email to an MTA official that “as I assume you know, we have had a ‘handshake agreement’ with SFMTA for years that allowed us to use the stops.”
  • Google asked to be exempt from parking tickets while the city was trying to develop a policy on shuttle use.
  • In response to complaints about traffic backups from the Google buses, MTA officials urged that the city do “outreach and warnings” instead of issuing tickets.

The documents are a series of internal emails discussing the shuttle issue. Most involve Carli Paine, a project manager for the MTA’s Sustainable Streets Division – who has had the unpleasant job of handling a long list of complaints about the buses, mostly from people who see the hulking behemoths blocking Muni and slowing traffic. (more after the jump)

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3 Responses to Investigation: SF gave the Google buses a “handshake” pass for years. Now will the violators finally get tickets?

  1. Bruce Wolfe says:

    Watch this video from Mark Fiore
    In Haight-Ashbury this is very prevalent. What’s more, MUNI was required to plant about a foot or more concrete pad at every bus stop because the weight of the buses were affecting and sinking the pavement. Now, the advent of corporate busing will increase not only the frequency of use but with vehicles whose weight was not rated plus the frequency of use for this concrete pad. In addition, new 35-foot white zones reserved for “passenger drop-off” for tour and other than MUNI buses were stealthily placed in certain areas along Haight Street. None of these areas are reinforced with concrete pads to protect the pavement either. Also, with all the congestion these buses are causing, they then use alternate routes through purely residential streets not rated for such additional weight causing new regular thoroughfares, and putting pedestrians and families with strollers and dogs at risk. The increase in sinkholes is caused by this.

    I remember there was a call at one time to place an additional tax on SUVs when they were on the increase for the additional weight causing more wear and tear on our streets. The basic concerns for every resident in every major city of its government is to get the “trains to run on time”, garbage picked up and fix potholes. This has been the call going all the way back to, well, forever. It is the reason for bonds to be put out to fix the streets. Now, the allowance of these non-city businesses (many just have city addresses) to operate unbridled and unregulated is causing this whole mess to start again. Round and round, and round and round. You can see the spiral of budget deficit a mile away with no reparations in site. Again, we give it all away leaving the poor and middle-class to foot the bill. Somehow this sounds a little like NIMBY-ism among these corp bus users.

    The miniscule $1 per stop charge is not profit to the city as many supporters of corp buses claim. This are reparations for our already spent tax-dollars for wear-and-tear and physical damage to our streets for which those workers’ salaries are being spent elsewhere and not fully supporting our economy. Plus, the loss of $$ in slowing down of MUNI services when our buses can’t get into the bus stops and have to pokey behind them on the same roadways. I can’t believe that this hasn’t caused a major CEQA Level Of Service EIR to be triggered but instead folks had to bring a lawsuit forward. And, if some grocery store wants to move into a neighborhood with a parking lot that does trigger a CEQA LOS EIR?! Yeesh! Such double-standards of policy.

    Sidenote: Actually, Genentech was one of the very first to provide corporate leased busing for their employees way before Google et al.

    First of all, these are all out buses. They are not shuttles. The smaller vehicles for Paratransit and campus-to-campus university transit are shuttles, say, less than 20-person capacity (sans Academy of Art which uses old full-size yellow school buses). Also, nearly all commuters south would be taking Caltrain anyway or be carpooling so the argument there would be more cars on the road is truly bogus.

    And, now we hear from a recent survey that if these corporate buses didn’t run, they would move to San Clara County anyway. Plus, the other recent Chamber of Commerce report shows that to own a home in the city requires a minimum of $155k annual salary. Even below market rate (BMR) is too expensive for many starting at $350k for a studio.

    What is so very interesting about this is in my parents’ generation, my father and the rest of the working class community took the bus to the Metro-North train to Grand Central station every business day for more than 40 years. Did they complain? Not one bit. Has anything really changed in this regard? No, not one bit. In fact, I did, too, when I went to audio engineering school in NYC and worked stage crew in the clubs at night. The only thing that is different now is the impatience of people. Get over it! Until Star Trek transporters are invented, drink less caffeine and energy drinks, slow down a bit and enjoy the scenery, take a nap, listen to some tunes…We were all glad this public transportation was there at all. No one wanted to commute by car into Manhattan.

    Plus, most of these tech workers I know would rather ride their bikes than be caught in a car except under the occassional City Car Share. But, when there are more new vehicles on the road in addition to other internal combustion engines that exist in a region (Caltrain runs on real diesel, too, like the corp buses), and that they would be caused to idle at any point on a public roadway that constitutes a change in Level Of Service under CEQA. It’s a fact that is not being addressed.

    In fact, San Francisco has a mandate towards reducing climate change that converted or purchased new hybrid and bio-diesel buses. If anything, the city should like it did with banning plastic bags, ban all diesel buses in the city. All other public transportation that operate or transfer in the city has already done so.

    Also, yesterday’s Chamber of Commerce report shows that to own in the city requires a minimum of $155k annual salary. Even below market rate (BMR) is too expensive for many starting at $350k for a studio.

  2. Rick Galbreath says:

    UPS has an agreement with the City: Tickets for double parking are sent directly to their HQ and are paid without question. They do so to keep the drivers from getting delayed while a ticket is written. In return for the no questions payment, the city allows for face-value payment net 30 (or maybe 60) instead of the 10 days to pay or contest.

    For UPS it is just a cost of doing business and it enters their usual A/P system.

    “GoogleBus” parking for $1 as a program is setting a bad precedent. Parcel and freight companies are going to want a $1 deal too and it is going to be hard to rationalize why GoogleBus gets to block Muni traffic for $1 and others don’t get to block traffic traffic for the same $1.

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