Influx of Private Commuter Shuttles to Downtown Sparks Concerns Over Policy Approach

A significant increase in the number of private shuttles taking commuters from their homes on one side of San Francisco to work on the other side and back has led Supervisor Mark Farrell to call for the city to consider its policy approach on the issue.

Farrell, who represents the Marina District, introduced legislation today that would require the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, in coordination with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, to develop a report with recommendations to help the Board of Supervisors regulate the private commuter shuttle services already operating on city streets.

Private 15-passenger vans operated by Chariot, one of the commuter services that have recently popped up in the city, offer plans such as unlimited rides for commuters for $93 a month or two rides for $10.

Chariot has numerous pick-up locations in the Marina District, Pacific Heights, Russian Hill, Haight-Ashbury, and the Inner Richmond neighborhoods that shuttles riders to various locations in the city’s South of Market neighborhood and the Financial District.

Riders purchase tickets online and then use the company’s mobile phone app to scan a QR code when boarding the van, according to the company’s website.

Chariot has five shuttle routes but expects to roll out additional routes as riders request them for their neighborhoods. Wheelchair accessible vans can also be made available with one day’s advance notice, according to Chariot’s website.

Farrell said today that while he believes “these new commuter services are clearly serving a market need” the city must be prepared to make informed decisions regarding any potential regulations.

“If and when these private commuter shuttle services expand, we need to have appropriate policies in place that effectively address further growth and mitigate neighborhood impacts,” Farrell said.

Another private commuter shuttle company already transporting passengers in San Francisco is Leap, which offers USB outlets for phone charging and Wireless Internet as well as juice, coffee and snacks for on-board purchase.

While Leap has only one route, which serves the Marina District and Downtown, it is a full size bus that holds more passengers than Chariot. The company’s website states that once it has enough requests in particular neighborhoods it plans to add additional routes.

Leap’s website states that the company does not use Muni bus stops and that they “actively try to stay out of Muni’s way.”

RidePal, another private shuttle company aimed at tech workers in San Francisco, is taking commuters from the city down to Silicon Valley in the morning and back home in the evening.

Farrell wants to know if and how all these private commuter shuttle services fit into the city’s current transportation, sustainability, and climate-action goals.

Among the chief concerns surrounding the increase in private shuttles are consumer protections such as driver training and insurance requirements, as well as use of San Francisco curb space and the shuttles’ emissions impact.

Many of these issues have previously come before the Board of Supervisors in recent years as San Francisco saw an influx of private commuter shuttles transporting Google, Facebook, Apple and other technology company employees from the city to Silicon Valley and back.

The SFMTA is running an 18-month pilot program that ends in January 2016 for those technology companies providing large coach buses to shuttle their employees within the city and outside the city to Silicon Valley offices.

It remains to be seen whether the shuttle program will continue after the pilot stage is completed.

A number of protests have been held against the shuttle buses and protesters have previously blocked the passage of the coaches in certain neighborhoods, such as the area surrounding Alamo Square Park.

Last month, Farrell publicly requested a hearing to discuss the city’s policy approach towards the new shuttle services and said he intends to host that hearing after the SFMTA and SFCTA submit a report along with their recommendations.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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