Following Board Of Supes Disappointment, Opponents Of SFMTA Tech Bus Plan Mulling Legal Action

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors decided late Tuesday night to deny an appeal that would have stalled the start of a pilot program for private commuter shuttles.

The 8-2 vote came just after 10:30 p.m., following more than six hours of debate and public comment on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s 18-month program that would charge private shuttles $1 per stop to use designated Municipal Railway bus stops.

The program was approved by the SFMTA board of directors in January and is slated to begin July 1.

Opponents of the pilot program filed an appeal after the SFMTA board of directors and the city’s Planning Department green-lighted the program under a California Environmental Quality Act exemption.

The program is expected to cost the agency $1.6 million, which would be recovered through the shuttle fees.

According to the SFMTA, more than 35,000 private shuttle boardings occur each day in San Francisco. As part of the program, the agency will allow the private shuttles to use about 200 selected bus stop locations around the city.

The appeal was filed by a group that included members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the San Francisco League of Pissed-Off Voters and housing rights and community activists.

The appellants’ attorney, Richard Drury, told the board that the city is sanctioning illegal use of public bus stops. He said the private shuttles from Google, Genentech, Apple and other companies are “pirate shuttles.”

Drury called for further review of the program and criticized the SFMTA and Planning Department for deciding that the pilot program is about fact-finding and is therefore excluded from a full environmental impact report under CEQA.

During the hearing, Supervisor Scott Wiener pointed to the long history of shuttles in San Francisco to transport workers within and out of the city and contended that the appellants were blocking the program for political instead of environmental reasons.

“There’s the assumption that these technology workers aren’t really San Franciscans,” Wiener said.

Drury contended that a review is necessary to see the impact on residents and infrastructure.

He said the shuttles damage city streets, emit cancer-causing pollution, jeopardize the safety of pedestrians and bicycles, slow down Muni buses and lead to the displacement of many low-income residents who can no longer afford housing in San Francisco.

Drury said longtime city residents are being kicked out to make room for workers who use the shuttles to live in San Francisco and work in Silicon Valley, turning the city into a bedroom community.

Supervisor Jane Kim said that there is no causal connection yet between the buses and housing displacement, while Supervisor David Campos said the SFMTA would be doing more than just data gathering under this pilot.

The hearing continued for hours with input from the appellants, the Planning Department, SFMTA staff, and members of the public both opposing and supporting the program.

The board eventually voted to deny the appeal, with Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos providing the two votes in support.

Supervisor Eric Mar was absent from the meeting.

Chris Daly, political director of SEIU Local 1021, said this morning that the coalition of appellants is looking at possible legal action to overturn the board’s decision on the CEQA appeal.

“Based on the law, we are very confident that the action that the board took last night was illegal,” Daly said.

Daly, a former supervisor who served until 2011, said the program’s opponents were “disappointed by the vote last night” and said the board is “out of touch” with the rest of the city.

Google released a statement shortly after the decision was made.

The statement reads, “We’re excited to continue working with the city of San Francisco on our shared goal of efficient transportation in the Bay Area. Google’s shuttles result in net annual savings of more than 20,000 metric tons of CO2. That’s like taking about 4,000 cars off the road every day.”

Google sponsors 57 shuttles that come into the city every day, providing about 4,400 boardings, according to a report that was released Monday from the city’s budget and legislative analyst.

The Bay Area Council, a local business advocacy group, hailed the board’s decision.

President and CEO Jim Wunderman said in a statement, “The commuter shuttle pilot program will provide valuable information that ensures the shuttles operate in close coordination with the city’s public bus system and minimize any impacts they have on neighborhoods.”

The Bay Area Council released a poll last week that found there was two-thirds support among 500 respondents for the Muni pilot program, and in general more than half of those surveyed felt favorable about commuter buses.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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  • sfrealadvocate

    I suspect the leadership of Local 1021 are out of touch with their members on the issue of the so-called Google buses. The Bay Area Council’s poll results would likely be replicated if an internal (and unbiased) survey of that local’s members was taken.

  • AussieX3

    So long as they don’t allow these buses to use Van Ness and Pine. Therein lies a bottleneck.

  • Justkiddinng

    And here I thought Chris Daly lived in Fairfield. Is he really clogging our roads by commuting into SF everyday? Oh wait, now I remember…he bought a BMR housing unit (below market rate) off Van Ness as part of some sweet heart deal while on the BOS. Nothing illegal there folks…uh when your connected to the insider political mob.

    Oh and didn’t he have some bar on market street for a while with signs posted inside ,” rest rooms for patrons only”. And here I thought he was a real “man of the people”… “defender of the poor”. Got to wonder how many homeless folks he denied restroom access while running his business. Oh well just shows he’s no different than the rest of us greedy, profit motivated business owners who have to clean up after the mess he left us with.

    Now I hear he’s one of those a “greedy” landlords in Fairfield…(no rent control to worry about there, right Chris?). Someone told me it’s really his Maoist wife who’s the “greedy” landlord. I could be wrong….hey Chris want to comment on the rumors?

    You got to love this guy’s hypocrisy….while on the BOS he chastised anything remotely sane. Now as a private citizen he’s liven large on his public pension with lifetime medical benefits and off union workers dues.

    Hey Chris, you had your day, your living in the past with your dumb ideas. Please, will you just go back to your upper middle class home in the burbs and leave the rest of us hard working, tax paying folks alone? We just want to get to work in the morning and home in the evening without clogging up the roads with single occupancy cars. We think taking the bus helps the environment….most others seem to agree.

  • neutral_corner

    There’s no practical argument for banning shuttle buses from the streets of San Francisco, but the city’s right to permit and regulate them is enough to make them more problematic for their employers. The city’s real estate interests love them, and — as we know — this town’s moneyed, malevolent real estate interests drive all of the politics in San Francisco.

    Not just the employee shuttles, but the casinos’ and the for-profit art schools’ shuttles should be paying offsets for the use of MUNI stops — and MUNI should be running like a world-class transit system.