Fight Over Google Buses Shows Need For Statewide Rail Funding Plan

Dec 9th, 2013 | Posted by

A battle that has been simmering for years finally exploded into the open today in San Francisco, where protestors blocked one of Google’s private buses that carries workers from their homes in the Mission to Google HQ in Mountain View. Protestors charged that Google was contributing to a two-tier transportation system in the Bay Area, where tech workers get free express bus service whereas everyone else has to make do with transit systems like Muni, BART and Caltrain that are increasingly struggling to meet soaring demand.

It’s a fair point. Every dollar that Google and other companies spend on these private transit systems is a dollar not being spent on operations, maintenance, or expansion of existing transit systems. In Seattle, for example, Microsoft operates a similar system – but the company is also one of the biggest backers of expanding the public rail system, which in 2023 will open a new route to Microsoft’s front door, and the company has been a leader in lobbying the state legislature for more transit funding.

In California, where transit systems have suffered from repeated budget cuts thanks to decades of conservative anti-tax policies, the need for new transit funding is severe. This is especially true on the Caltrain corridor connecting San Francisco and San José and points in between. This is a tech train, or at least it ought to be. The commute from the Mission to Mountain View should be easy and swift. But decades of deferred infrastructure upgrades mean that it isn’t, and now is the time to rectify the situation with new investments in the Peninsula Rail Corridor. Meanwhile Caltrain struggles to cobble together operating funding to meet surging demand, BART is experiencing increasing operational problems due to its own aging fleet and facilities, and Muni has needed a big infusion of cash to upgrade its own service for some time now.

The solution, then, is obvious. Google needs to take the lead in lobbying Sacramento for a statewide transit and rail funding package. Bay Area businesses have not been shy about this in the past. BART is the creation of the Bay Area Council, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group have fought hard to bring BART to Santa Clara County and to support other regional transit. And they’ve been big backers of the high speed rail project, which will help provide the added capacity on the Peninsula Rail Corridor that these tech companies and their employees require.

Google shouldn’t have to do this alone. Elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels need to also begin working to craft a statewide transit and rail funding package in order to help California solve its energy, environmental, and economic challenges. And advocates will need to take up the work of defining and then defending a package once it goes to the ballot.

Bay Area transit has begun to fall behind other parts of the state and the country. It’s time for the region to lead again, rather than remain mired in conflicts between those able to enjoy good transit service and those who are stuck with a system that isn’t getting the investment it needs.

  1. Alon Levy
    Dec 9th, 2013 at 21:18

    Ah, yes, the protest with the agent provocateur pretending to be a Google worker yelling at the protesters. Somehow, those protests never target cars, only transit that the protesters don’t like.

    joe Reply:

    Oh what do you know about this? Making up shit. I’ve heard these complaints first hand form SF MUNI/Caltrain users.

    There have been many articles about these buses and the problems they create in the city and elsewhere where, like upscale cities in the foothills where they idle and make noise and block traffic.

    These buses in SF use MUNI stops and block MUNI buses. This is a commonly reported problem. It’s bad in SF given the narrow streets and limited parking. It’s a private service using public space and hurting public services.

    There is an overall dislike of the techies, their behavior and their impact on SF. Again this article shows the same trends I read about and saw first hand as a SF resident 1996 (real estate bust bottom to 2001 – the dot com boom).

    These people have high paying jobs and private service with access to neighborhoods in the city. Near these de facto stops, rents go up. Like Casto and 24th st. The Google Bus pisses off those transit users who cannot use the special bus and see their public service hurting while rents jump due to the prime access the Google bus provides their employees.

    One issue – the realestate boom in SV is huge and dependent on the Employer busing in people. when these companies have to right size budgets and mature as all do, they’ll be cutting back on the free bus and SV will have excess capacity for the transit system in place.

    joe Reply:

    excess reals estate and office building capacity for the meager transit system in place.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    There are two sentences in my comment. One is about the presence of the agent provocateur. The other is that those protests do not target cars. Which of those do you think I made up? Especially since basically your entire comment agrees with my second sentence, about people being pissed at the shuttles and not at private cars, which are also private transportation using public roads.

    joe Reply:

    “The other is that those protests do not target cars.”

    Yes, it’s because that’s not what is upsetting them. They are upset over the separate and unequal services which happen to also change their neighborhood with high rents around the corporate pick up and more traffic/people coming to and form the pick up point.

    I lived in front of a muni stop that could shave been a pickup point and if were the 40 people daily per bus would have been very annoying and disruptive. I have no say in that use since it is private and no access to the service.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes… and my complaint is that they’re upset by private buses but not by private cars! Those are also unequal. A bus with 40 riders gets the same priority as a car with a driver and no passengers. A bus rider is thus equal to one fortieth of a car driver. But they get upset over Google shuttles instead. Drivers don’t bother them, perhaps because they feel affinity (which just means Muni is so shitty they aspire to be drivers one day). Non-drivers do.

    VBobier Reply:

    It really goes to Google spending money on Google buses which in turn makes landlords/property owners increase rents, Google says one thing and then continues to be a source of the problem, all Google is doing is putting money into the Google bus system, instead of the public transit system, so greedy landlords raise rents as a result, get rid of the Google buses and spend Google money on public transit only and the problem will go away by itself, until then the resentment that Google is generating will climb and it could result in Google being banned from operating its buses or at least an attempt at doing so.

    That’s My 2 cents on this, as an outside observer.

    Joe Reply:

    If they put one at your corner, you’d be driven out by high rent and cost of living.

    Derek Reply:

    Unless you work at Google. Then you could sell your car and rent out your parking space.

    joe Reply:

    If you work at google with free bus then you’re making enough to compete for rent.

    Like you for instance – you’re making a comparable salary but not everyone’s making 150,000-200,000 per year.

    A 70k per year worker is not so lucky.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Only because the NIMBYs make it illegal to build more. Words can’t express my scorn for people who oppose upzoning and then complain about how any improvement in the neighborhood’s desirability raises their rents.

    joe Reply:

    No – only idiots would tear down the historical 1800’s victorians in Noe Valley to make more housing. It’s patently stupid.

    There is no evidence that SF can grow itself to lower rents. The city is lowering the threshold for dwelling size and encouraging development. Rents are not going down.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Tokyo must be full of idiots then. So must have been American cities in the 19th century and early 20th century, replacing all their Colonial Era housing stock with tenements.

    The SF NIMBYs are also opposed to microapartments.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So if Google gave the bus to Muni and you now lived in front of a bus stop with 40 people boarding but the bus was painted different how is that better or worse? Stop defending this idiocy joe

    Joe Reply:

    Muni wouldn’t establish noisy, dirty, oil burning bus transit stations in narrow street city residential areas without comment and review.

    I am more tolerant of a impact due to a public good or service than private. I’d object but if not successful, accept the result. It’s called civic duty.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I forget what you said in response to older posts showing how community leaders extort TOD developers as an argument for CEQA reform.

    joe Reply:

    Having a public institution follow a process that includes public comment and redress is not an equivalent to Palo Alto extorting traffic mitigation money for every new Stanford expansion.

    No one can go to google HQ and discuss the bus site location – none’s asked or notified – they show up at will. It’s been unregulated.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I know it’s unregulated. It’s very good that it’s unregulated. Here, the NIMBYs in my neighborhood are opposed to a subway to UBC, because it will change the characteristic of the neighborhood (i.e. simultaneously price the renters out and reduce the owners’ property values). For subways, it’s an acceptable tradeoff – brown-nose the NIMBYs for permanent infrastructure. Buses aren’t like that; they move around a lot. William Fischel says that this is why zoning exists in the first place – streetcars had permanent ROWs so suburban snobs could live away from the lines, but buses could go anywhere, so they had to make sure it would be illegal to build apartment buildings where they wanted to live since they’d bring in black people and poor people reduce property values.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    I thought they were illegally using the existing bus stops. Which is it, they are making their own bus stops or they are using the muni ones. Because if they are using the muni ones then there is no difference between public and private buses. If they are not using muni stops then they are not doing anything illegal. Either way they are not doing anything wrong or different that muni buses

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If rents go up the value of the rental unit goes up. Landlords love it when rents go up.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So the solution is to make them take public transport so that public transport can get even more crowded??? There is zero logic here. By running private busses they are REDUCING the strain on the system making it BETTER for people in public transit.

    Those employees would be either using 50 cars instead of 1 bus or on public transit taking up space that other people claim is at a premium.

    This is the most ridiculous thing I have heard on this blog in a long time.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Damn, you mean I actually agree with JN? It’s going to be a long day…

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    It will pass. Here I will help.

    Buses are stupid. Bring back Hummer. Why do I have to walk by the asses to get to my limo.


    joe Reply:

    Private buses impacting public buses and space.

    Employees move to be near the corporate bus stops – this isn’t relieving demand. It is putting demand in places because they run a bus. Who was consulted about this impact to the community?

    Other cities have cracked down on these large diesel buses which are idling and bugging neighbors. There are impacts. Stanford now intercepts tour buses and makes them park away from the quad.

    It’s a wonderful idea until it’s in front of your home and screwing up your commute.

    JB in PA Reply:

    “Private buses impacting public buses and space”

    Would it be better if they were public buses? Going directly to Google. Then the protest would be ‘Why are we paying for public buses to benefit Google employees.’

    ‘cracked down on these large diesel buses’
    Yea, we don’t want efficient transportation if it is noisy.
    If they want to protest something protest to -suggest- that Google switch to hybrid buses which are both diesel and quiet. Or lobby the government to -urge- Google to switch to hybrids. Or pass a law. But the law should apply equally to everyone with similar operations and not unfairly penalize Google.

    Joe Reply:

    And they do run express buses in the SV that mimic what google offers but these buses leave from places designed to board large number if people – VTA 121 for example runs from a few south county stops up to Lockheed transit center.

    Public buses run on routes the public has some input and they are regulated.

    These buses do not remove trips as much as they induce employees to live in areas near a bus stop. They add more and continues.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Oh no, the horror, they make a place more attractive to live in! Good God, what will these barbarians come up with next, transit-oriented development? Denser housing?! SWEET CTHULHU NO!!

    joe Reply:

    That’s the problem snarkester. Companies do no take any infrastructure commitment – they just load up a bus at will on a narrow street in a bus zone without making any transit oriented development or any commitment for constant service. These busses are as sure a think as SGI was a sure thing.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    This is a narrow street. This is another narrow street, with a bus on it. This is also a narrow street, with retail without parking, about a hundred meters from the world’s busiest train station. San Francisco does not have narrow streets. It has streets like this, which are narrow by suburban American standards and wide by pre-industrial urban ones (and not so pre-industrial ones, in Japan).

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Google has no obligation (legal, moral, or ethical) to fund public transport beyond the taxes they pay

    VBobier Reply:

    Public buses for only Google employees would be just as bad as Google buses for Google employees, as all it would be is a change in owners and a whitewash, make Googles buses a part of the public bus system and make the buses open to all to use and Google to pay for the public transit system and any improvements. Problem solved, rents and resentment will go down, just not immediately…

    James in PA Reply:

    Make Google buses public…

    Reminds me of the scene when the war hero Dr. Zivago comes home to find -his- house has been made public.

    JB in PA Reply:

    +1 JN agree

    WTF?! Google is providing for their own employees. Taking many cars off the Freeway. The tech employees move to your city and buy things that create jobs and boost the local economy. ‘Who consulted…?” Instead of driving up congestion the buses are distributed around. Supply and demand. The buses will find a place to park. For what , a few minutes?

    “Google needs to take the lead in lobbying Sacramento…”
    Why is one company obligated to advocate for public policy? Who voted Google to represent me?
    “Google shouldn’t have to do this alone..”
    of at all.

    Google is already taking responsibility by BUSS-POOLING.

    This protest if freaking is crazy! They are going after supposed or imagined deep pockets of Google and are jealous that techies have good jobs. Good for techies. They will grow up and participate in the community. They should be welcomed not shunned.

    Such BS!!!!!!

    JB in PA Reply:

    I WANT the Google bus passing me in the carpool lane so I don’t have to squeeze in 50 more cars on the already packed 101. My commute gets on and off at San Antonio which is on the north end of the Google neighborhood. I see the buses every day. There are other long distance buses that I see heading for Dumbarton. We need more buses from whatever source not to stand in their way.

    Joe Reply:

    So SF is not a depressed economy. The buses do boost income in an area and that my good friend means you will have to pay more rent or move.

    If you own a coffee shop then bravo.

    If you rent or need common services line a grocery store – well too bad. These average folk businesses se driven out in favor of expensive restaurants. Seen it first hand in noe valley.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s possible to build more housing. But that would change the characteristic of the neighborhood, so it’s not allowed.

    Fake Irishman Reply:

    Stop being a Communist, Alon. Everyone knows that buildings above three stories are simply sops to the one percent, especially if they replace surface parking. Yes, this comment is self-contradictory, but so are protestors who value the status-quo above all else.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They’re both a sop to the 1% and a collectivist conspiracy to force people to live in tenements. And it’s not even two different sets of people saying this – Kotkin makes both arguments at once.

    VBobier Reply:

    Stop being a bully and calling everything you don’t like communist… Cause that’s what it looks like to Me and probably others too…

    joe Reply:

    Drill baby Drill.

    No evidence whatever that SF can build its way to lower rents. That’s a total fallacy. It hasn’t happened despite massive developments in the city.

    And it’s asinine to suggest a 1897 home has to be torn down to accommodate your desires.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No evidence whatever that SF can build its way to lower rents.

    Compare construction costs with sales prices.

    And it’s asinine to suggest a 1897 home has to be torn down to accommodate your desires.

    No, it’s asinine to suggest that the owner of an 1897 home who is offered a lot of money to tear it down and replace it with a bigger building is not allowed to do that to accommodate your desires. Your desire is to keep neighborhoods as they were before all the immigrants gentrifiers came in. Mine is to be allowed to live in neighborhoods without prostrating myself before a bunch of narrow-minded bigots to convince them that I won’t change the characteristics of the neighborhood too much.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Ownership of property is enshrined in the constitution. They can do with it what they will

    joe Reply:

    Sure – guys.

    If paying sufficient money to tear down a expensive legacy home, you fantasize that means they’ll build afford homes for Alon. Hilarious.

    Take a two flat, create two condos and viola profit. That’s what they do. You think they’ll tear it down and make cheaper housing – on what planet do you live?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The legacy home isn’t expensive. The land under it is expensive. The legacy home can quite easily be replaced with a 6-story building built on larger lot coverage. Multiply the floor area by a factor of 8, spread the land cost across more units, and eventually housing prices will be near construction costs.

    Unsurprisingly, in the Satmar areas of Brooklyn, where the community demands and gets upzoning because it’s for its natural population growth rather than for outsiders, new apartments are quite affordable by Brooklyn standards. (And no, it’s not because the Satmars are poor; West Harlem Dominicans are also poor, and in West Harlem new apartments are more expensive.)

    Walter Reply:

    Young people with good jobs should move to the exurbs at 25. We wouldn’t want them to be able to freely choose where to live–what if it’s near me? If they have to live in the city, couldn’t they at least find a neighborhood that has stayed the same for a few hundred years?

    Most importantly, we really want to deport (not like from America, just from where I live) the people who work in the technology industry. Because fuck them, that’s why. Don’t you understand!? We need to reject each wave of newcomers kicking and screaming before we eventually appreciate them as part of the whole “rich fabric” thing rather than the latest threat to it.

    If someone is 26 and has stuff I don’t have (curse their nice benefits and small apartments in vibrant neighborhoods!), the only fair thing to do is to take their stuff away.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    To buy the legacy house in San Francisco and tear it down costs 2 million dollars so before they even get building permits for the 8 unit that is going to replace it they have to charge a quarter of a million just for the empty lot.

    Joey Reply:

    Yes, but most of that 2 million is the value of the lot itself, not the house on it.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    yes the price of the very expensive land is reflected in the price of the condo that didn’t cost very much more to build than a comparable would cost to build in Peoria.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    A legacy house that costs $2 million can be replaced by more than 8 units. Say the house is on a quarter-acre lot; a quarter-acre lot generously supports 6 middle-class apartments per floor, with small setbacks. Tel Aviv puts 2 apartments per floor on an eighth-acre lot, but the smaller lot means the setbacks are larger as a proportion of lot area. At 6 stories, the new condo building has 36 apartments in theory, probably 30 in practice since first floor might be retail. Suddenly the land cost is $60,000 per unit. The actual construction cost of these units (again using Tel Aviv sizes, in a neighborhood that’s been creeping from middle to upper middle class) is about $250,000 each, in SF. The developer needs to make some profit, but even at $350,000 per unit, the profit is well over a million dollars for the entire building. So the price has been cut by a factor of 6. The homeowner NIMBYs know this – that’s why they oppose upzoning.

    The only issue is that now all the surrounding land is worth a bit less, since one lot supplies the housing need of 30 families. Sometimes it might be worth more if those 30 families spend more money locally (making retail more valuable), or if developers see the success of the first project and start buying out the next houses over – this is how upzoning sometimes produces gentrification, locally. But this has a limit, since there aren’t millions of people wanting to live in the same spot, except in a few extremely desirable areas, where developers don’t want to build 6-story buildings but try to get approval for 60-story ones. And renter NIMBYs tend to be against upzoning even when done citywide; I’ve seen no cheering for Bloomberg’s attempts to push upzoning in large swaths of New York among the affordable housing crowd.

    Specifically with Google, there probably are only a handful of thousands of Googlers commuting from SF to the Googleplex. Not all of them want to live in the same areas, so in each neighborhood, after a small number of quarter-acre lots have been converted to six-story condos, the demand is met. A hundred citywide would suffice assuming no two-body problems and no singles living in smaller apartments. When it’s easy to build, developers very quickly run out of people who can afford to spend gentrifier amounts of money on housing, and have to make do with people who can afford apartments at construction cost.

    Walter Reply:

    Add me to the parade of pro-HSR progressives having a first experience agreeing with John.

    These protesting folks need to be honest–it’s not about the damn busses, they just don’t like the techies that are flooding into SF. Are we supposed to be mad at Google that they employed a lot of people, mad at their well-paid employees for deciding that SF seemed like a nice place to live, or mad that Google decided to pay to move these people around themselves? I’m just at a loss here.

    peter baldo Reply:

    I suppose one might complain about peninsula suburbs that like the property taxes of the Googles and Facebooks, but don’t want the rank and file employees to live there. If you’re young and work on the peninsula (which automatically makes you a techie), SF’s one of the few places with affordable housing.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Only old people work in the fast food joints, stores etc?

  2. Paul Druce
    Dec 9th, 2013 at 22:08

    Why exactly are we complaining about a private company funding mass transit and removing road congestion?

    EJ Reply:

    Among other things, they illegally use public infrastructure (IE bus stops) to pick up their passengers, without contributing to their upkeep, and blocking MUNI buses.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    So charge them a token fee for the use of the bus stops or simply change the relevant law. These private bus systems provide a net positive good, though it is hilarious to see Robert defending public subsidies to big business.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Robert defending public subsidies to big business.

    PBQD and Tutor? Small fry. A billion of public money down the private tubes for “studies” with not a shovel turned? No problem.

    But get the evil buses! Nail ’em.

    BTW I spent the better part of two decades doing that commute on fuck awful bullshit useless worthless Caltrain. I’d have killed for a google bus. You idiots suggesting that anybody other than a few brain-addled enviro-loons (ie myself) would take Muni (MUNI!!!!) plus Caltrain plus some VTA bus over driving alone in one third the time if teh googles buses went away are quite simply bat shit insane, and have no contact with human beings on planet earth.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    More to the point, in Sacramento, several counties run express bus service to downtown Sacramento. Nothing really stops MUNI from doing the same thing (or VTA, really) for the Googleistas.

    joe Reply:

    BTW I spent the better part of two decades doing that commute on fuck awful bullshit useless worthless Caltrain. I’d have killed for a google bus.

    You idiots suggesting that anybody other than a few brain-addled enviro-loons (ie myself) would take Muni (MUNI!!!!) plus Caltrain plus some VTA bus over driving alone in one third the time if the googles buses went away are quite simply bat shit insane, and have no contact with human beings on planet earth.

    So would residents now kill for that bus but don’t get access.

    It think the point isn’t ONLY the buses as much as the gentrification, and changes wealth bring – also the fact these residents are not sharing and part of the same community. Seeing it first hand in the dot com boom and it continuing – people that get fed for free, and other life perks at work and get bussed home to a condo/apt are not living the same life as most residents.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    “Residents not sharing” – so if people are driving to Google, they should be forced to allow non-Google employees to carpool with them?

    joe Reply:

    No one’s making that silly link to mandated carpooling. Many people are upset by large private buses. I suggest listening and learning rather than engaging in remote analysis. Separate and unequal treatment does bother people.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Separate and unequal treatment? Why, are cars not unequal? Do they not get massively more access to roads per user than buses do?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So 50 cars is cool (make then BMWs because that is I what a good techie will drive) but buses are evil? Oh yeah, mass transit is good…no bad…no good. Pick a side.

    They hate gentrification, the buses are just a symbol and a stupid one to attack at that. And to argue that SF is too expensive to live when it is a top 5 city in expense for the whole US already is like living in Seattle and then complaining you hate rain. It was that way when they got there, the residents hat are complaining now displaced the previous generation who bought for even less

    joe Reply:

    People complain – like you. It’s natural and reasonable. They have a right to worry about losing affordable living and unfortunately can only express themselves in demonstration since google doesn’t hold public bus/shuttle hearings.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    There is no such thing as “losing” affordable housing in SF. It hasn’t been affordable for decades in comparison to all but a handful of other places in the US.

    They can complain all they want, but the logic of their complaint is missing. They want to stop private buss
    Es because they are nicer than public buses.

    They want more public transport investment , but they don’t want buses in front of their houses.

    They want a good economy but they don’t want gentrification.

    They are just illogical

    Jeff Carter Reply:

    Richard Mlynarik: “BTW I spent the better part of two decades doing that commute on fuck awful bullshit useless worthless Caltrain. I’d have killed for a google bus. You idiots suggesting that anybody other than a few brain-addled enviro-loons (ie myself) would take Muni (MUNI!!!!) plus Caltrain plus some VTA bus over driving alone in one third the time if teh googles buses went away are quite simply bat shit insane, and have no contact with human beings on planet earth.”

    Perhaps if the bat shit insane politicians/MTC of 20-30 years ago were NOT so fixated on BART extensions, maybe Caltrain would NOT be so worthless and useless as you feel it is…

    These buffoons claimed the Caltrain will never carry more than 15-20,000 riders (Caltrain now carries over 50,000) and Caltrain improvements will drain all transit funding for the next 10-20 years. BART extensions are the only solution; BART to SFO will carry over 70,000 riders and will turn a profit…

    jonathan Reply:

    Right! Now a bonus question: guess precisely *which* “buffoons” (your word) are in charge of CHSRA?

    synonymouse Reply:

    “the bat shit insane politicians/MTC of 20-30 years ago”

    These are the same reprobates in power today and the same PB-Tutor. The DogLeg is the new BART to SFO.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I’m sure some of them have died off.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I’ll die off before those troglodytes.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Mike Nevin died on Dec. 1, 2012 of esophageal cancer:

    He was an early and leading advocate for the extension of BART down the Peninsula from Daly City to Millbrae. Behind the scenes, he was a key negotiator in ensuring that the extension would be completed without the requirement that San Mateo County join the BART District and commit to a permanent half-cent property tax to the regional rail service. It was, as Mr. Nevin said, a great bargain, saving San Mateo County taxpayers millions of dollars over decades.

    Mike Nevin on BART and Caltrain, August 1999

    Caltrain Board Adjourns Meeting in Mike Nevin’s Honor

    Clem Reply:

    Scary stuff. I wonder how many other retromingent thinkers we still have on the board today.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So everything would be peachy if they sold the buses to Muni for a buck a piece and contracted with Muni to run the buses?

    EJ Reply:

    Well realistically, people would still grumble, because this stems from a deeper resentment of rich techies “taking over” San Francisco. But it would at least be more fair.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    What is “unfair” about a private company providing private transit to its employees. There is nothing “unfair” about it.

    Joe Reply:

    Let me idle my diesel bus in front if your home and allow my 49 employees to board at 6am.

    The Castro bus mini 24 is electric and difficult to hear as it passes. The diesel isn’t.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Why’re you comparing a minibus to a full sized bus, especially since Muni’s full sized buses are also diesel?

    wdobner Reply:

    Pretty sure that was a typo. Should have been Muni, not mini. The Muni route 24 on Divisidero is an electric trolleybus route.

    joe Reply:

    Google doesn’t restrict use to minibuses in SF. The bus held up was not a minibus.
    An electric bus like the Muni #24 is cleaner and quieter than a gasoline car, let alone a minibus.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So you hate buses? I thought you like mass transit. These buses are mass transit , just not public transit. So if it’s a public bus then people should love it but if it is a private bus it is evil? Where is that logic

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Joe

    Those days at Muni are gone; diesel busmen are now running the show. Back when Willie B. was still in the Legislature he had found the money to wire the #71 – Muni just let it drop. Nowadays you cannot even get them to convert the #38 with on line bus storage.

    They’re idiots – look at how the effed up the Central Subway. After stupidly moving over to 4th & Stockton they still turned off at Columbus Avenue and now they are stuck in a dead end when at least they could stayed on Stockton and eventually mined straight ahead to the Wharf. They’re morons.

    swing hanger Reply:

    I have no problem with private companies providing transit for their employees, it’s great actually. As for the bus stop problem, solution as P. Druce said. But I do find it somewhat sad that nice transit ends up reserved for the privileged (as Google employees are)- an illustration of how social class stratification can be seen in transit modes. Hopefully one day you can find company presidents taking the same bus or train as the janitors, and everyone considering that as normal, as it is where I reside now.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I’m sure Google has janitors and if one of them lives where the buses run they are welcome to use it…..

    Eric Reply:

    How many janitors can afford to live in SF?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I dunno, they live somewhere. How do all the poorer people still in the neighborhood make it work? If you are living in the house your grandparents bought back when the neighborhood was cheap living in the Mission may be a viable option. The yuppies renting what used to be grandma’s apartment help it.

    Eric Reply:

    More likely, they commute from Richmond.

    Andre L. Reply:

    In fairness, it is most likely Google janitorial and custodial staff work for a security or office keeping business with whom Google subcontracts these services. Most companies do that with these defined-but-non-specialized support tasks.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Cars block Muni buses, both in the same lane and at intersections. You can put light rail in separate lanes, but if it has to cross streets with cars at-grade without railroad crossing gates, it’ll still be slowed down. Shared-lane buses crawl because of cars, and if you replace a shuttle bus with 40 cars, they’ll crawl even more.

    But it’s so much easier to extort a billion dollars from Google than to call for higher taxes and fees on drivers.

    EJ Reply:

    Cars aren’t allowed to pick up passengers from bus stops either. I’m not sure why asking Google to follow the law bothers you so much.

    Increasing road taxes to fund public transit and reduce congestion would be great, but it’s a separate issue.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They want to make the tech companies pay $1 billion:

    joe Reply:

    So what? Residents are not allowed to ride the bus. It’s a job perk, not a community service. The IRS should tax the employee’s benefit.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Are you going to also tax employee only parking?

    Joe Reply:

    No because it’s not classified as an employee compensation. Same as not taxing their desk or office phone.

    You do know that the IRS is trying to tax the free food provided by google as employee compensation. It is. As is the free transportation to/from work.

    Derek Reply:

    Desk/office phones are tools required to get the job done. Parking isn’t if an employee who takes the bus is just as productive as an employee who drives to work.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    So you want to penalize mass transit and encourage lots of parking and single passenger car trips?

    joe Reply:

    Google bus is not mass transit. I don’t penalize the company a cent. An employee is paid in compensation, the free food and transportation are compensation.

    Parking on company property isn’t treated as a form of compensation. It’s taxed as property and the EIR reviews the trips and in the SV companies pay a fee to cities for traffic mitigation and impacts.

    But I will indulge you both – Parking in MTView is free. Downtown parking is free. City parking is free. What’s the market value of the parking at Google’s campus?

    Stanford parking is not free. A free parking pass would be treated as compensation.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Do you believe dollar vans and Chinatown buses are mass transit? Stephen Smith reports examples of anti-private transit people saying that they are not, including the quote “wait for the bus.”

    joe Reply:

    Stephen Smith is not serious.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Are you saying he’s lying when he said that people told him that? Or do you just think everyone who is too foreign or too libertarian isn’t worth listening to?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    The shuttle buses have zero effect on Muni.

    Get out there on the streets of SF yourself — I have done the exercise, in numerous locations at numerous times — and see for yourself.

    For that matter, the SFCTA looked for problems and found none, either, despite having been sent on a fishing expedition cum witch hunt by the Board of Supervisors.

    Just because you personally have some personal beef with the idea of more than one occupant per motor vehicle travelling between SF and Mountain View doesn’t mean that there is any negative effect on the mind-bogglingly incompetent, inefficient and slow local transit operations in SF.

    Muni would be a self-inflicted clusterfuck even if there weren’t a single other vehicle on the streets of SF. This is the agency, after all, that is spending two billion public dollars on PBQD’s Central Subway to replace slow buses with slower (door to door) and more expensive (to buy and operate) and less reliable 1970s-riffic streetcars.

    Google buses making pick-ups and drop-offs aren’t any of the top ten thousand problems with Muni.

    joe Reply:

    “The shuttle buses have zero effect on Muni.
    Get out there on the streets of SF yourself — I have done the exercise, in numerous locations at numerous times — and see for yourself.

    Google buses making pick-ups and drop-offs aren’t any of the top ten thousand problems with Muni.”

    Nothing and I mean nothing will get in the way of your personal vendettas. Apparently you’re cruz the streets checking out bus stops. Fantatic, I mean fantastic.

    Here’s a 2012 article.
    If you’re used to riding to work on a crowded, lurching Muni bus that arrives late and costs too much, consider this: Some San Franciscans commute on 50-foot luxury coaches with cushioned seats, wifi, air conditioning and mini television screens. The state-of-the-art vehicles arrive on time — and the service is free.

    The buses aren’t regulated by the city and pay nothing for the use of public streets. But these giant private beasts freely and without penalty stop in the Muni zones, clogging traffic, and sometimes preventing the city’s buses from loading and discharging passengers. They barely fit through narrow corridors in neighborhoods like Noe Valley and Glen Park.

    I know that area pretty well being a former resident and lived in front of a trolly stop that often was blocked or difficult navigation if a car parked illegally in a small spot.

    So I have seen, out my home office window, the bus being blocked by a standing car or delivery truck.

    Emmanuel Reply:

    No, they are paying the municipal public transit system the appropriate fees to use those stations. Quiet honestly, they could have used any curb or even built their own driveways for that purpose.

    Shuttle buses for specific purposes have been around for a while and I don’t think anyone would say it’s a two class system when college students enjoy a dedicated bus line. If the buses are declared illegal, Google will use their own private taxi fleet or (the horror) all employees will drive in their own vehicles.

    If anything the Google buses reduce traffic congestion. I… I really don’t get it. What are they demanding? That Google builds a private viaduct lane that passes the neighborhoods of the “plebs”? The irony is in the fact of what a commenter nailed so perfectly:
    “Taking advantage of uneducated workers at Walmart and paying them a minimum wage is evil. But when tech companies hire educated people, pay them a healthy salary and provide them with comfortable amenities, they are also evil.
    Which pompous donkey came up with these stupid standards?”

    Emmanuel Reply:


    synonymouse Reply:

    Welcome to Pelosi world, where you cannot use your fireplace on the coldest days of the year nor get any quality paint.

    Google should just pull their buses and suggest their employees complain to the local ward healer. Vote for a different one next time.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    awful the way those filthy tree huggers want to breathe.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Hard to breathe when you are freezing. But real good for PG&E – they are laughing all the way to the bank. But your NIMBY’s can afford to burn the heat all day and day long in their glass tract house on a slab.

    And paint it again next year when the job has failed. Or your bare wood has swollen because it needs alkyd primer. Kelly Moore water based Durepoxy can’t qualify at 150 VOC.

    **** BAAPCD

    synonymouse Reply:

    all day and all nite

    Joe Reply:

    Stanford runs shuttle buses to from Palo Alto Menlo park, campus and the hospital and you can ride on them. That’s why they don’t complain in Palo Alto. They also stuck to transit areas and not in the side streets.

  3. swing hanger
    Dec 9th, 2013 at 22:22

    Welcome to California, capital of the Third World.

  4. Drunk Engineer
    Dec 9th, 2013 at 23:23

    Protestors charged that Google was contributing to a two-tier transportation system in the Bay Area, where tech workers get free express bus service whereas everyone else has to make do with transit systems like Muni, BART and Caltrain that are increasingly struggling to meet soaring demand.

    If Muni/Caltrain can’t meet the soaring demand, then isn’t the Google Shuttle a good thing?

    RobBob Reply:

    None of the bus lines even compete with Caltain, unless you are considering alternatives that involve adding probably 30 mins to get to Caltrain via Muni and/or biking. (from

  5. Robert S. Allen
    Dec 9th, 2013 at 23:28

    Over five decades ago voters in three Bay Area counties voted bonds that brought us BART. It’s time to update the SFBARTC 1957 “Report to the Legislature” that led to the 1962 election, and to bring to the voters of the five counties ringing San Francisco Bay a ballot measure for a unified rapid transit facility modeled on what that Report suggested.
    Prop 1A in 2008 sought “Safe and Reliable” HSR. HSR on Caltrain tracks, with many station platforms and 43 grade crossings, would be NEITHER SAFE NOR RELIABLE. Far better, safer, more reliable, and less costly: upgrade the Amtrak East Bay route from San Jose to a new Bay Rail Hub intermodal facility in Oakland where BART crosses overhead. BART, with 4-minute headways, could reach all four downtown San Francisco stations in 5 to 9 minutes. Like SFO, the Hub would not be in the San Francisco city limits, but it’s as much San Francisco as SFO airport, which gets BART at 15-minute headways and takes about 29 to 33 minutes to downtown.
    Robert S. Allen (925) 449-1387 BART Director, District 5, 1974-1988. Retired, SP (now UP) Western Division, Engineering/Operations.

    synonymouse Reply:

    no more goddam 5’6″ gauge.

  6. John Nachtigall
    Dec 10th, 2013 at 00:32

    It’s a fair point. Every dollar that Google and other companies spend on these private transit systems is a dollar not being spent on operations, maintenance, or expansion of existing transit systems.

    This statement is patently false on its face. How is money Google spends going to go to public transit…dollar for dollar no less. Private transit busses are REDUCING the strain on the system by getting cars off the road and keeping the employees out of the muni system which is “overloaded” That is all a good thing.

    This is nothing more than jealousy that they have nice wi-fi busses with excellent jobs and gentrify neighborhoods. Those tech jobs allow San Francisco to run their liberal city with ridiculous budget expeditures. And they want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Priceless.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    i just did the math. According to thier estimates (which are suspect) there are 7100 “illegal” stops each day x 200 working days a years x 2 years = 2.84 million. They claim the “techs” owe 1 billion which works out to $380+ per stop. That is more than 10X the cost of parking for a whole day.

    Its just ridiculous on its face

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I think it’s based on fines for cars parked in bus stops. Which is wrong on a lot of levels – fines are deliberately set well above market price.

    What’s even more ridiculous is that if San Francisco banned the tech shuttles and instead directed Muni, Samtrans, and VTA to provide equivalent shuttle service, then city money would be spent on subsidizing the tech shuttles.

    Joe Reply:

    Public utility – that’s the rational for public support. No dominance of an entrenched employer by locking up transit and clogging public spaces. Why can’t yahoo use that stop at the same time?

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Then let’s see a comparison of monetized social costs to social benefits from Google’s transit program.

    Andy M Reply:

    What is the fine for illegally using a bus stop? All they need to is raise that to $400 per infraction and start using CCTV to collect evidence.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    What exactly is the overall social good that you promoting here?

    Why not waterboard then crucify the drivers also? Make some examples! Encourager les autres!

    Joe Reply:

    Enforcing the law. Social goal is free flowing public transit. Socially vetted transit impacts, not privately determined impacts on a community.

    Pretend the buses carry PBQD employees. Ahh, Now you understand. How dare they act unilaterally.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No. They’re asking to retroactively force the law. Will anyone ever retroactively fine double-parked cars on Sundays near churches? No? Then why retroactively fine private shuttles?

    joe Reply:

    Retroactively? A violation has a statute of limitation, within that time a violation is a violation.

    Why drag out the religion and throw around false equivalences. What church encourages patrons to double park in weekday rush hour?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, retroactively. Double-parking also has a statute of limitation, and yet if Bill Bratton decides to start slapping retroactive fines on black churchgoers who double-park on Sunday, there will be protests and people will rightly call him a racist and an asshole.

    Whether it’s on a weekday or not is irrelevant. You’re arguing law in this subthread, not quantifying the impact on the street.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Black churchgoers?

    More like the Church of Saint Dolores Free Park(ing).

    The double parking is an active safety menace. Some day somebody — probably a bicyclist — is going to get killed because of the assholes who unpredictably block travel lanes and swerve in and out of traffic with no care (PROTECTED BY BABY JESUS!). It’s amazing it hasn’t happened yet, or at least hasn’t been reported.

    Bring on the “racist assholes”. Please!

    Jerry Reply:

    @John Nachtigall
    An illegal stop can be considered illegal parking.
    Illegal parking after your vehicle is towed in SF can cost OVER $500.

  7. Andy M
    Dec 10th, 2013 at 06:11

    How about if Google just starts allowing non employees to catch their buses (for a reasonable fare) and publishes timetables etc? That would level the playing field and if Google can do without a subsidy what MUNI needs a lot of subsidy for, then let them take on the other bus routes too.

    JB in pa Reply:

    Why don’t we let people choose to ride in your back seat. This is bordering on socialism. Google contracts private buses, why should they be burdened to subsidize public access to their buses?

    JJJ Reply:

    Why are the taxpayers burdened to subsidize private access to public roads? Sounds like socialism to me.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Sounds a lot like what cars get every day on every street to me. And yet, no protests. Cars are Us, Google buses are Them, so no need to worry about it.

    J. Wong Reply:

    I don’t think they actually check IDs. So you can ride for free, but if you’re not going to Google or near Google, you’re probably not going to want to get a ride, free or not.

    synonymouse Reply:

    TWU 250A

    GGT is not allowed to pick and drop off passengers in SF on the same run.

    synonymouse Reply:

    pick up

    Andre L. Reply:

    Techie shuttles act as extended workplaces for most purposes. Workers can plug in their laptops if they want to do some work. They can also make calls and openly discuss issues that would not be allowed on a public setting out of concerns for business privacy (in the same way most companies have policies). If non-workers are allowed on these shuttles, then this comfort of having a corporate environment where you can work freely as if on the office is taken away.

  8. trentbridge
    Dec 10th, 2013 at 08:14

    Obviously the only penalty that would suffice – given that Google is an extremely wealthy corporation – and the fine must fit the wealthy of the offender – is to legislate that Google must “lend” CAHSR $50 billion – they actually have that much cash – as mitigation. Problem solved. They can then write GOO-OOOO-OOO-OGLE down the side of every train set. Really – when the solution is staring you in the face – why think small?

  9. Derek
    Dec 10th, 2013 at 11:08

    tech workers get free express bus service

    No they don’t. A subsidy doesn’t mean the something is free, it only means that the price is hidden and paid some other way. Unpriced freeways aren’t really free. Neither is “free” parking.

    When we realize this, we’ll be ready to save massive amounts of money by replacing Prop K (San Francisco) and Measure R (Los Angeles) sales taxes with user fees. Density will naturally increase as people move closer to work and shopping to save money, and this will make HSR more popular and cost-effective.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    As you probably know from reading this blog a while, I do not care about cost effectiveness, at least according to the traditional and limited measurement that it describes. HSR and other transit are much cheaper than expanding freeways, buying oil, and the effects of emitting carbon into the atmosphere, and that’s all I think we need to care about when it comes to costs, and that represents the savings we really need to be worried about.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    1. HSR is a better carbon mitigation measure than burning kittens.

    2. Therefore, throw $100 billion at PBQD.

    I do not care about cost effectiveness!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Biomass is carbon neutral isn’t it?

    EJ Reply:

    Cost effectiveness is also extremely important when you’re talking about mitigation such as trenching or tunneling high speed tracks in suburban neighborhoods, since those people are NIMBYs and should be punished.

  10. Rob Dawg
    Dec 10th, 2013 at 11:58

    “Every dollar that Google and other companies spend on these private transit systems is a dollar not being spent on operations, maintenance, or expansion of existing transit systems.” ~ RC

    This is revealing. Public transit good, private transit bad. Worse, the implication that promoting private transit solutions are somehow detrimental to public transit.

    Robert: Ir it transit or public transit that is the issue?

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Nowhere here did I say Google should stop running their shuttles. What I am saying is that it should not become a permanent solution. Microsoft has spent a lot of money to get the Puget Sound rail system expanded and next year construction begins on a route from Seattle to Redmond via Bellevue (other routes are also under construction or close to breaking ground). If Google is running these shuttles as a stopgap while they work to help provide funding to expand Caltrain service and other transit around the state, then that’s one thing. But it should not become a long-term thing, since it would have the lasting effect of creating a two-tier transit system. We should be building transit systems that everyone can use, not just a few.

    Joe Reply:

    Office buildings constructed in SV depend on free employee shuttle service to bring in workers. Capacity along 101 is overwhelmed by current users and it’s already augmented by free bus service.

    It’s a bus bubble/office space bubble. We have more bus users than public service. When companies are unable to afford the bus perk, there will be a flood of demand on the public system.

    The penalty to the area is when this bubble pops and the office capacity excess goes under used because the area depended on free service.

    Andre L. Reply:

    Why would Google have some responsibility (moral, let alone legal) to finance with its own dime transportation to its workers, specifically? If one is to think of some sort of general funding through taxes or fees or real estate development contributions to finance transit infrastructure, fine by me. However, it is wrong to single out a rather successful company, and a quite young one (that you cannot stick accusations of being the beneficiary of decades-long favorable policies or political connections), and demand that they finance transit expansion that everybody will be able to use?

  11. JJJ
    Dec 10th, 2013 at 12:27

    The problem that many dont seem to understand is that every Google rider taken off the public system hurts public transit in two ways.

    You know how people who dont use transit vote no to fund it? Like in every election where a suburban area fucks over a regional system?

    Well thats whats happening. These Google riders have a private system so they dont give a shit if the public system burns. They have theirs.

    Why do mass transit systems in cities like NY, where EVERYONE* rides it, still suffer financially? Because the asterisk, those who dont ride it, are the politicians and funders in their limos. They dont care about the system because they personally dont use it (See Cuomo).

    If the google people were riding Caltrain and MUNI, theyd be hollering back and forth about how it sucks and needs to be improved. And because theyre rich and have influence, the politicians will listen.

    If theyre on their private system, and public transit becomes the exclusive realm of the poor, the service will decline and decline and decline because the rich people wont vote to fund it. See transit systems in republican areas where the bus is synonymous with welfare on wheels.

    Eric Reply:

    So you want to make life suck for Google workers so that they’ll realize there are problems in the world and vote to end them. While we’re at it, why don’t we take away your electricity and running water, perhaps it will lead you to sympathize with people in the third world who don’t have them.

    Joe Reply:

    If we take his electricity then we take yours too. That’s the point, separate an unequal breeds resentment.

    It’s happened organically. People who haven’t been priced out of a rental market don’t care to sympathize with those unable to afford a 65 hamburger at a South of Market restaurant. SoMa was once cheap place to live. This is the market place responding to inequality.

    JJJ Reply:

    Those without electricity arent voting in my local elections and making donations to my candidates.

    However, if in SF we had a public utility that provided India-quality electricity (ie a few hours a day, maybe), but Google had a package where all their employees had free electricity….that would be a major problem because those employees wouldnt give a shit about a major issue.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Uh, yes they would. Most people don’t live in tiny little bubbles and even fewer are sociopaths who have no concern for their fellow man at all.

    Eric Reply:

    Ah, yes, so everyone richer than you should be reduced to your level of income. But you shouldn’t have to give up anything.

    Neville Snark Reply:

    I think that this is exactly right; it connects with comments above from Swing Hanger. And I’m afraid ;) that what it points to is the superiority of a European style attitude towards public goods such as transit.

    Andre L. Reply:

    Your argument is immoral. You are alleging that groups of people should be made to “share the pain” by having something that in principle doesn’t harm others just so that their political clout is available to those who have none (or a lower one).

    This reminds me of the bizarre provisions of that new proposal (born in LA metro, don’t know how it stands now) to ban public schools’ parents associations from fundraising to pay more to teachers or hire teaching assistant staff on their school because that would be unfair to poorer communities whose parents couldn’t possible afford that. The logic behind it was exactly what you described: if upper-middle class parents were forced to share the fundraising with the whole district (instead of using to the school their kids attend only), everyone would benefit and equity would be preserved across the district. The problem, as many pointed, is that such a law would just further the shift of upper-middle class students to private schools, further alienating these voters with more clout from the public school system.

  12. J. Wong
    Dec 10th, 2013 at 13:11

    As some one who lives in SF and takes Caltrain, I’d have to say the limitation is not Caltrain so having Google be arguing for Caltrain doesn’t much help Google. The real problem is Muni and getting to the train stations either 4th & King or 22nd St. Service to them from most neighborhoods is very inconvenient, and there’s not much that can be done about that since it would require new routes that would benefit only commuters to the stations. (Of course, some people take BART to Millbrae to catch Caltrain going south, but it costs more.)

    The tech buses (and its not just Google, but Yahoo, and even bio-tech like Genetech) are not really a problem for mass transit. They’re mostly a problem for drivers (yes, I’ve noticed when I’m behind them). They also aren’t a cause but a symptom of tech workers moving to SF. (Why do you think Google started running buses? Not because they wanted their employees to move to SF, but because their employees were already living in SF.)

    P.S., I don’t know for sure, but I assume that Google does run shuttles (or at least supports them financially) from the Mt. View station to the Google campus for those employees that want to take Caltrain. (I know Oracle does.)

    Joe Reply:

    There is a place for shuttles at MTView. Microsoft etc run them daily. These are places where shuttles were planned.

    I lived near Glenn Park next to the Noe Rec Center and it is slow to get to Caltrain. I walked to the Muni 22 and took that to the 22nd. J was too slow. Muni 48 slow and unreliable. Running some AM / PM express buses, infrequent stops, to the Caltrain stations might work. The 48 meanders on Potrero Hill. An express could take 24th St. Cross at 23 and go to the stop. People could transfer off for local service. VTA runs these kinds of express bus service for a higher fee to Caltrain and other centers. Some SF buses express to Stanford Palo Alto transit center.

    IMHO, Google runs buses to recruit internationally. SF is popular so they run service to attract people disinterested in MountainView area. They are also in a biding war for talent and employee time. These buses are work time.

  13. J. Wong
    Dec 10th, 2013 at 15:28

    The buses are just a symbol, folks. Do the protesters really care about the buses, per se? No, they were really protesting the consequences of all the tech workers moving into SF with the evictions, rising rents, etc., but how do you protest that since it so amorphous (although they do protest specific evictions). And they focused on something that was easily visible and would get media coverage.

    And of course, actually banning the buses would accomplish very little for their overall agenda because a lot of the tech workers actually work in SF (Twitter, Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, and Google and Yahoo, too)!

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I think the problem is the bises effectively cede land use control to Google. Maybe the solution is a muni bus from SoMa to Apple, Adobe, Yahoo, and Facebook… We should call it the Startup Express.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If they gave a crap about evictions, they’d call for liberalizing housing construction. More housing supply = lower housing prices. The construction cost of even luxury condos is far below current prices, and would be affordable to the middle class; non-luxury construction would be affordable to people not far above the poverty line given only moderate compromises on apartment size (about 100 m^2 for a family of 4).

    Instead, they try to extort developers, keep all the restrictions on new housing, and force everyone to prostrate themselves before them to be allowed to change anything. If Google had to appear before the community of search engines to be allowed to make its website, people would still be stuck with AltaVista and Yahoo.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The prices of condos or even single family houses includes the price of the land under it.

    joe Reply:

    ‘More housing supply = lower housing prices.”

    Nope. Not in SF.

    Shitty housing and bad city services = lower housing prices. You want to remove regulation and zoning to encourage shitty housing development. Win for you.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, in SF. And everywhere else. Just like “more stimulus in recession = more jobs,” even though unemployment rose after the stimulus bill was passed. Or “more oil production = lower oil prices,” as OPEC’s behavior demonstrates. It helps when you have economic models, in this case Ed Glaeser’s model of zoning in Manhattan, which could equally well apply to SF and other expensive cities.

    Eric Reply:

    Housing and city services are not of higher quality in SF than in, say, a good neighborhood in Omaha NE. But demand is higher, so prices are higher. Increase the supply to match the demand, and prices will go down.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If they aren’t of higher quality than in Omaha why are they paying more for them? Why don’t they move to Omaha?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Because SF has more jobs.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    then when it comes jobs the the quality of housing in San Francisco it’s better than whats available in Omaha.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The quality of the location is better. The actual housing stock, not so much. Happens a lot. That’s how Manhattanites pay top dollar to live in shoeboxes with substandard heating. Or how Israelis pay top shekel to live in Central Tel Aviv, where almost all buildings are in various state of decay because the whitewash is too expensive to maintain. Or how Italians pay to live in medieval city cores in small apartments that predate indoor plumbing by a few centuries and it shows.

    joe Reply:

    Sour grapes.
    Jobs with Google Facebook and etc are not near SF. SV jobs are NOT easy to get to from many parts of SF which is why there are private buses.

    SFGATE highlights real-estate in SF. The renovations and upgraded interiors are listed daily. It’s not medieval housing or whitewashed crap. People have invested in these properties to maintain them.

    The affordable housing you imagine can be built by eliminating regulation isn’t in demand. There are urban areas with deregulated housing markets and they suck in comparison. Tell us about the desirable cities in Texas. There’s work there and highly deregulated housing. Gives us some examples of desirable housing there.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Houston and Dallas are very much in demand, which translates to 3-4% annual population growth. The housing in coastal California is also very much demand, but because it’s illegal to build in most cases, this translates to ~0.5% annual population growth and much higher prices.

    Also? People have invested a lot in medieval housing and in Tel Aviv bauhaus buildings, and at the highest end they’re well-maintained. Would they have invested if it was legal for them to replace those buildings? Probably not, Tokyo was one of the world’s largest preindustrial cities but its housing stock is new.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Manhattan and San Francisco avoided having wide swaths of either being burnt down in bombing raids which has something to do with housing stock in Tokyo being newer. I betcha the housing stock in central Dresden is mostly post 1945. Someday there’s going to wide swaths of Detroit that are post 2040 or whenever Detroit turns around.
    Some of the priciest real estate in Manhattan used to be slum. Some of it got lovingly rehabbed and from the street hasn’t changed much since it was newly suburban. Other parts were slum and they tore down the walkups and built elevator buildings. They still tear down the walkups and build elevator buildings. There’s very little cheap slum in Manhattan left that they can tear down and build elevator buildings on. There’s very little cheap slum left in San Francisco either. If you have to charge a quarter of a million dollars to each new apartment to buying the land it’s sitting on those apartments aren’t going to be cheap.
    You want cheap real estate downtown feel free to surf Zillow for Detroit.

    Joe Reply:

    Epic fail on Tokyo.
    I think Alon wants to encourage cheap housing slums. It’s the only rational interpretation of his argument.

    Housing in SF such as a mission district expands but demand is always greater. They induce demand with these new units. Many new units have been added and building up. Just added a multi story condo building at 2.3 million each new unit (2bedroom) at mission and 19th. Most sold after 2mo on market.

    SF adds housing but it’s so much in demand due to the quality of life that it cannot keep pace. Developers somehow find little motivation to build cheap apts for Alon. They maximize profit by going upscale. That’s a free market. Maybe regulation can foster low income housing but now we are back to zoning housing.

    Areas unencumbered by land constraints have less expensive housing. Alon picks geographically restricted areas and wants to see Houston class growth. Earthquakes and limited land make it very difficult.

    Property values and rent are less when zoning cannot restrict development, like fertilizer factories from being built next to schools. Some folks think that’s a problem. I like zoning. Richmond had cheaper rents but they have refinery near by.

    Maybe put a smelter in SF and drive down rent.

    Eric Reply:

    “Developers somehow find little motivation to build cheap apts for Alon.”

    Developers sell the most expensive apartments that people are willing to buy, it makes them the most profit. Right now, zoning permits X (some number) apartments to be built, and there exist X people willing to pay for a $2.3m apartment of that size, so developers sell apartments for $2.3m.

    But at the same time X people will pay $2.3m for an apartment, there are Y (a larger number) who will pay $1m. And Z (an even larger number) who will pay $500000.

    Relax zoning regulations so that Z apartments can be built, and the price of each will drop to $500000. That’s still much higher than the physical cost to build an apartment, and with appropriate building codes, these apartments will not be slums.

    You mention apartments which are getting built now. VERY few, relatively speaking. They create an X-level of apartment supply, when we need a Z level.

    P.S. Alon: Thanks for the Ex Urbe link. Amazing blog.

    Joey Reply:

    Housing in San Francisco will always be expensive (at least by the standards of foreclosing exurbs), but there’s absolutely no reason to believe that if it were more abundant it wouldn’t be cheaper (something about supply and demand?). And perhaps massive up-zoning wouldn’t bring prices down much during the current housing boom, but that boom is going to end at some point and the more excess housing there is then, the cheaper it will be.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Build Z levels of apartments and they need things like elevators and fire resistant party walls and escape stairs with positive ventilation. And then all the little things like exit signs and hallways lit 24 hours a day and someone to come and sweep up. It’s going to cost more than slapping a modular on a slab.

    Joey Reply:

    I bet all of that stuff is super expensive too. Expensive enough to push a $500k condo to $2m even.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s more expensive than slapping a modular on cheap land which is one of the reasons why they slap modulars on cheap land. If it was cheaper they’d buy less cheap land and build Z buildings out in the middle of nowhere.

    Eric Reply:

    I wonder who “they” are. It seems there are two “they”s impeding progress in SF. There are land owners who want zoning unchanged to keep demand high. And there are renters who want to repel demand so as to keep rents low. You would think the two groups would realize their interests are mutually exclusive. Somehow they don’t.

  14. synonymouse
    Dec 10th, 2013 at 17:17
  15. Nadia
    Dec 10th, 2013 at 18:50

    Can HSR share tracks with Caltrain and still make 2 hours 40 minutes? The Authority has claimed they can.

    Curious how they are justifying these claims?

    Our latest post has the details and supporting documents showing how negotiation over a few key words changes a lot….

    Resident Reply:

    As usual, the most informative posts are at the end of the comments in the post right before Robert changes the subject.

    Nadia, thanks for posting this. So apparently what we are basically looking at here is hard evidence of the CHSRA cover up behavior. I’m just wondering when public agency lying to public, lying to legislators, lying to feds, becomes criminal behavior.

    But additionally, how is a memo, but not data backup, sufficient to prove that the project meets specification in the law? I suspect that the judge will view this similarly to his view of the authority’s position in the validation suit. “Because we said so” is not going to cut it.

    Jon Reply:

    I think you missed the real story here, which is how the 110mph SF-SJ travel time changes between the three iterations of this memo.

    The 13 January 2013 draft memo states 32 min SF-SJ at 110mph, and 30 min SF-SJ at 125mph. It has 12 assumptions listed in bullet points.

    The 5 February 2013 draft memo does not give any time for a 110mph run, and again states 30 min SF-SJ at 125mph. It has 7 assumptions listed in bullet points.

    The 12 February 2013 final memo states 30 min SF-SJ at 110mph, and does not give any time for a 125mph run. It has 6 assumptions listed in bullet points.

    Which assumption was removed between 5th Feb and 12th Feb? “Train speed approaching the terminal station at Transbay Transit Center (TTC) is reduced to 25 mph due to constraints of existing infrastructure.”

    They cut out Transbay from the simulation in order to achieve 30 mins SF-SJ at 110mph.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    They cut out Transbay from the simulation in order to achieve 30 mins SF-SJ at 110mph.


    Of course that’s nothing compared to what they did to fabricate their ridership “estimates”.

    J. Wong Reply:

    It’s true that Prop1A says nothing about where in SF (or LA for that matter) the 2:40 time is supposed to be between. They are planning service from 4th & King so it seems legitimate to time it from there.

    Nadia Reply:

    Article 2 states:

    2704.04. (a) It is the intent of the Legislature by enacting this
    chapter and of the people of California by approving the bond
    measure pursuant to this chapter to initiate the construction of a
    high-speed train system that connects the San Francisco Transbay
    Terminal to Los Angeles Union Station and Anaheim, and links the
    state’s major population centers, including Sacramento, the San
    Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, Los Angeles, the Inland
    Empire, Orange County, and San Diego consistent with the authority’s
    certified environmental impact reports of November 2005 and July 9,

    and later it says….

    2704.09. The high-speed train system to be constructed pursuant
    to this chapter shall be designed to achieve the following
    (a) Electric trains that are capable of sustained maximum revenue
    operating speeds of no less than 200 miles per hour.
    (b) Maximum nonstop service travel times for each corridor that
    shall not exceed the following:
    (1) San Francisco-Los Angeles Union Station: two hours, 40

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Odd that they specified a particular station in Los Angeles but not one in San Francisco don’t you think?

    synonymouse Reply:

    One would assume the San Francisco Transbay Terminal was specified because SF insisted CAHSR monies would be appropriated to dig the TBT Tunnel.

    LA is a lot bigger than SF. Note that no particular cities were spelled out in “the Central Valley”.

    Sue, Palmdale, sue.

    Clem Reply:

    Can you read? San Francisco Transbay Terminal to Los Angeles Union Station

    synonymouse Reply:

    Sure would seem if you cannot drop Palmdale you cannot drop the TBT. Unless PB is working off a “double-secret codicil” in Prop 1A.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I can read. I still find it odd that the legislation specified a particular station in Los Angeles when specifying a particular time constraint but avoided that when referring to San Francisco.

    EJ Reply:

    “San Francisco Transbay Terminal” refers to a specific station. It’s not a generic term.

    EJ Reply:

    Oh, I see what you’re referring to:

    (1) San Francisco-Los Angeles Union Station: two hours, 40

    Seems like that’s one for the lawyers to hash out.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    We have added each memo separately with all the supporting speed diagrams.

    We have raised the issue of blending before – the added issues here are the relationship between the people coming up with the facts and those paying them to do so. It gets back to the importance of not politicizing facts.

    joe Reply:

    ” It gets back to the importance of not politicizing facts.”

    Raising the Issue of Blended — That’s the “Blazing Saddles” Strategy.

    Don’t Blend HSR or we’ll shoot ourselves with an expanded ROW.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Many of the arguments for Altamont were that 4 tracks along the 50 miles were too expensive and faced community opposition. The blended system analysis done by Caltrain shows that blending + altamont works while blending + pacheco doesn’t.

    Sticking the head in the sand and pretending 50 miles of blending has no real implications for hsr or caltrain doesn’t make them go away.

    In this case, the 2 hr 40 minute proviso SHOULD at least be reason to re-analyze these options in light of decision to use blended approach.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    This decision is another 20 minutes and another couple of trains capacity plus probably another couple of $billion + service to sacramento for marginal additional cost.

    CLem – another oevre on pacheco blended vs altamont blended?

    morris brown Reply:

    Any discussion of Altamont vs. Pacheco on a best route basis should just be ignored. The facts simply are that Altamont wins everytime on a technical basis for best route. The choice is not even close; Altamont best by a long margin.

    The one and only reason why Pacheco was chosen was purely political; San Jose insisted the train go though San Jose. Otherwise, San Jose was withdrawing support for the project. End of discussion. I continue to be mystified why this simply bit of reality is ignored.

    Joe Reply:

    Pacheco to San Jose.
    San Jose to San Francisco via Caltrain ROW.

    The trick in Blazing Saddles doesn’t work. You can’t stop HSR by pointing a gun at you head to take a hostage. Litigating for strict 30 min or 2:40 will not stop HSR.

    You point a gun at your head and threaten to pull the trigger. Go ahead and stop blended. We’ll go full metal HSR up the peninsula. That’s not a poison pill, it’s a viable alternative to the blended compromise. And it’s popular and needed.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If one of the parameters the system must meet is “goes through San Jose” Altamont fails miserably at it.

    Clem Reply:

    That parameter is probably way down the list from “scrape enough money together to build something useful” which the current plan fails miserably.

    Jon Reply:

    Here’s a fun fact – San Jose is 50.50 miles from SF in the SF – LA time/distance plot, and 47.84 miles from SF in the SF – SJ time/distance plot. I wonder what the difference is?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Hey, they paid a bunch of your tax money to have the Train Performance Calculator program modified to display feet, hundreds of feet, miles, US tons, pounds of pressure, and horsepower.

    You really oughtn’t to expect irrelevant details like the track distance between stations to be maintained when they’re busy with the important stuff.

    Clem Reply:

    Squirrel! We’re quibbling over 2 or 3 minutes up north, but it’s far, far worse down south. Detouring the entire system via Palmdale costs from 13 minutes (for express trains that don’t stop in Palmdale) up to 18 minutes (for trains that do stop in Palmdale). And that’s before you remove ridiculous assumptions like blasting at 220 mph through Rosamond, Lancaster, Palmdale and the San Fernando Valley, and the use of maximum braking prior to all speed-restricted curves.

    So yeah, if there’s a bit of dishonesty on the peninsula, it’s downright fraud in LA county.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Realistically would there be enough demand for any train not to stop in Palmdale. With half-empty trains wouldn’t you have to stop at all points to pick up stragglers? The route is so detoured anyway that thru passenger traffic won’t amount to enough revenue to justify express.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If it’s 2:55 they’ll all fly and if it’s 2:40 they’ll take the train.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    At 2:41 the trains don’t run because they broke the limits set bt prop1a

  16. Michael
    Dec 10th, 2013 at 20:39

    SF is working on the stop issue. In North Beach, the bus already sits out of the way, in a restaurant white zone, which is not used before lunch.

    Here’s one to chew on…

    Also, many companies and developments run private shuttles IN SF, including the Presidio, mostly from BART stations to further off locations. That the City is now working to unknot all this now is a good thing.

  17. Matthew
    Dec 11th, 2013 at 06:27

    San Francisco is full of selfish, moronic residents, which is a shame. First, the NIMBYs block new housing development which might alleviate the overwhelming demand. Now, the same kind of idiots block a Google shuttle bus because …. why exactly? How stupid do you have to be to screw up cause-and-effect so many times?

    These elitist SF snobs are exactly the sorts of assholes that earned the name “limousine liberals.” They’d be happier if Google sent out 40 limos to pick up their employees rather than one bus. Because limos are private cars, and do you see these assholes out there protesting private cars? Of course not. Even though private cars block up streets, get in the way of emergency services, impede MUNI, and yes, park in bus stops? Even though private cars are the ultimate form of appropriation of the public street by private interest? Where’s the outrage when a MUNI bus gets stuck in traffic created by a bunch of single-occupancy vehicles?

    Oh wait, there is no outrage, because the selfish morons who go out to protest are the ones driving the cars. Because ultimately, they don’t care about public transit, or the plight of the poor, or affordable housing. They just care that they got theirs, and “screw everyone else.”

    I bet this protest got its start when some limousine liberal was behind one of the shuttle buses in his fancy car and decided that the bus was moving too slow for his taste.

    joe Reply:

    “These elitist SF snobs are exactly the sorts of assholes that earned the name “limousine liberals.” ”

    You have it backwards.
    The Mission District is an affordable, lower economic, working class neighborhood. At least it was.
    Awhile back, we highlighted these condos at Mission and 19th St. The 2 bed, 2.5 bath condos, priced at $1.6 million- $2.3M are practically all sold or pending, having been on the market just 2 months.

    This is what’s upsetting people: 2.3M condos in their affordable neighborhood. Many new residents board private buses.

    It is perfectly rational behavior.

    synonymouse Reply:

    That new housing will be around when the boom goes south. It is cyclical.

    Meantime it is satisfying to see the patronage machine cadres, worthies, faithful, militants infighting over just who is the true limousine liberal.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So they were “affordable” when they were 1 million? 1/2 million? In any other city that is a joke. They were never affordable to the average American

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There were very affordable places to live in San Francisco until a few decades ago. And in Manhattan.
    Rich people didn’t want to live in them. That’s changed. Shit happens.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    16 years ago was the boom. What do you define as affordable.

    joe Reply:

    I lived in SF that time and the mission was affordable.
    Mission District. $800 easily for a single bed room apt. My wife’s apt for example. A 2 bed room in Noe Valley with yard cost me 1800.

    Stanford grad students, living on stipend, lived in the Mission. We’d visit them. People earning 100-125k per year can afford to by an older home in the mission at that time. I know of aim who bought then.

    Noe Valley prices jumped from 400 to 800K for a two flat 1800 home at the peak of the bubble. Stand alone old 1800 homes approx 1200 sq ft were 450-500K in the boom. Now the two flat I rented is valued by zillow 1.25 M

    Matthew Reply:

    No, it isn’t a rational argument.

    If the new residents weren’t boarding the shuttle buses, then they’d be boarding their private cars and driving down the Peninsula. That would be worse for SF.

    How is protesting a shuttle bus supposed to help make a point about housing prices? They’re tilting at a symptom, not a cause.

    The protesters are insanely clueless.

    SF needs to build more housing. If the protesters wanted to actually do something useful, they would go protest the NIMBYs who block new housing from being built. They would go protest the idiots who sit on the Zoning board and force snob rules on the city.

    But they won’t do that, because it’s likely that these protesters are the same morons who squelched their own housing supply.

    Jerry Reply:

    How are cars controlled in London?
    And would it work in SF??

  18. Reedman
    Dec 11th, 2013 at 11:04

    This article misses the irony of SF previously being in the free shuttle business, in direct competition with rail service.

    When the BART “SFO surcharge” went to $4, SFO employees were able to get SF to give them a free shuttle to bypass BART and the surcharge. The shuttle only ended when BART agreed to issue special “low surcharge” transit passes to SFO employees.

  19. jimsf
    Dec 12th, 2013 at 21:38

    good lord who gives a crap any more. im buyinh a home in the sierra with peace and quiet. and my next car will be a truck. and my husband will have one too. yes the techies and excess have ruined sf and its neither fun nor interesting nor unique anymore.
    and.. anyone who thinks sf can buikd its way to lower rents and mortgages is delusional. the more they build.. the higher the prices go. there isnt going to be a surplus of 500 dollar apartmentsfor low wage earners or 150k homes for working class families… ever… matter how highyou build.

    building more equals only one thing. more luxury for more wealthy folks manhattan,,,they manage to sanitize and gentrify the fuck out of the place and push the working class across the bridges. and may the people who support that, rot.

    jimsf Reply:

    you know… paris is expensive too. they should probably bulldoze the 1st through the 7th and build much higher to make it affordable. character schmaracter.

    joe Reply:

    Let me buy you a hamburger.

    EJ Reply:

    That’s what I don’t get – do people have some sort of right to live in SF if they happen to want to? And somehow if you densify the city it’s still going to retain the character that made everyone want to move there in the first place? It’s a big ol’ country; there’s no goddam reason we all have to cram ourselves into the smallest little bits of attractive coastal real estate.

    jimsf Reply:

    its a democracy so the people who livw therewho want to prserve the charactaer and history have a right to try. the people who want to preserve sunlight on parks and keep neighborhoods at a con
    mfortable human scale have aright to try, and the big money and capialists have a right to try to do their thing too. luckilky sf is still a place where the average citizen has a say at city hall thanks to district representation. so its all a work in progress.

    and yes it is a big counrty. coastal real estate has always been desirable throughout history though.

    and at a point the city is no longer the special placeit was and you say forget it what am struggling here for just to be surrounded by people i havenothing in common with. so you leave.

    theres a lot of nice places to live

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