The tech bus wars may be close to a truce. Efforts to better integrate an influx of shuttle buses ferrying employees to tech companies into the transportation system of San Francisco are paying off, according to the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency. While challenges to accommodating the wheeled mammoths remain, the agency’s recent report on a pilot program aimed at better coordinating logistics of stops points to some benefits of the shuttles.
“The shuttles take cars off the streets by giving commuters an alternative to driving in order to get to work. However, they are sometimes larger than Muni buses, can produce more emissions per vehicle than smaller vehicles, and can present an unwelcome presence particularly on smaller city streets,” reads the Oct. 5 report from the agency, commonly referred to as Muni.
Shuttle services aren't new to San Francisco, but a boom in the tech sector has made them more prevalent as new employees of startups and tech companies like Google and Facebook flood the area. As pressure mounts on the area's housing system, climbing rents and shady eviction practices have displaced long-term residents of San Francisco and Oakland. The charter-style tech buses serving tech industry residents have come to symbolize contentious housing and economic issues.
Protests of the buses have criticized the shuttle services for interrupting public transportation services. And according to Muni, the increase in the presence of the wheeled mammoths has resulted in logistical and spatial complications for a public transportation system unprepared for the influx.
“Commuter shuttles have used the streets of San Francisco for decades, but their numbers have increased in the last few years. Without designated curb space for loading and unloading, private commuter shuttle operators have imperfect choices to make about where to load and unload riders,” notes the report.
The shuttles could stop in travel lanes, but that blocks traffic and is unsafe for riders getting on and off. The shuttles could pause at Muni stops and get riders closer to the curb, but that can interrupt Muni service.
Muni established a pilot program last year to try to deal with these types of issues. The agency established special zones for shuttle stops as well as zones for the shuttles to share with Muni buses. Shuttles using the shared zones pay a fee to the city.
The report doesn’t state how much revenue fees have generated for San Francisco, but CityLab took a stab at calculating the total. Based on a current fee of $3.67 per stop event, assuming 3,000 stop events daily, the web magazine calculated that shuttles pay about $11,000 a day to the city. That adds up to $2.86 million in revenue over 260 working days per year.
Muni reports that its attempts to work with shuttles have been more or less effective. The agency says the program should be continued in a more permanent way in a form similar to the pilot program.
“The alternative to the Pilot Program was not the disappearance of shuttles, but instead a return to the pre-pilot days, when shuttles stopped at more than twice as many locations as they do now,” reads the report. It concludes that “the Pilot Program addressed the principal issue that shuttles present by managing shuttles to minimize their impacts and maximize their benefits to the transportation system.”