Google buses

Muni fare shakedown


Update: Just a day after the release of this article, advocacy group POWER announced that Google pledged to pay for Free Muni For Youth for two years. “This validates both the success and necessity of the Free Muni for Youth program,”said Bob Allen, leader in the FreeMuni for Youth coalition, in a press release. “We need tech companies in San Francisco and throughout the region to work with the community to support more community-driven solutions to the displacement crisis.” 

The funding though is promised only for two years, and when that timeframe is up the question will still remain — will Muni’s operating budget pay for something Mayor Ed Lee could find funding for elsewhere? Additionally, Google hasn’t announced funding for free Muni for seniors or the disabled, another program up for consideration in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s new budget. That may change if and when it is approved by the SFMTA for the next budget year. 

“I think it’s a positive step in the right direction,” Superivsor David Campos, the sponsor of Free Muni For Youth, told us. “But there are still questions about what it means in terms of the long term future of the program. It’s only a two year gift.” 

“We have asked for a meeting with Google and the mayor’s office and the coalition to talk about long term plans, to find out more information about what this means.” 

There’s a tie that binds all Muni riders. From the well-heeled Marina dwellers who ride the 45 Union to Bayview denizens who board the T-Third Sunnydale line, we’ve all heard the same words broadcast during sleepy morning commutes.

“Please pay your fare share.”

The play on words (also seen on Muni enforcement signage) would be cute if it didn’t perfectly represent how Muni riders may now be stiffed. A slew of new budget ideas hit the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors last week (Feb. 18), and who will pay for it all is an open question.

The first blow to riders is a proposed single-ride fare hike from the current $2 to $2.25.

Other proposals include expanding the Free Muni for Youth program, rolling out a new program offering free Muni for seniors and the disabled, and a fare hike to $6 for the historic F streetcar.

The odorous price jumps (and costly but promising giveaways) are moving forward against a backdrop of a Muni surplus of $22 million, which the board has until April to decide how to use, and a controversial decision by Mayor Ed Lee to make a U-turn on charging for parking on Sundays.

The meter decision would deprive Muni of millions of dollars.

“We’re not proposing anything here, just presenting what we can do,” SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin told the SFMTA board at City Hall last week.

There’s still time to change the SFMTA board’s mind on the proposals between now and final approval of the budget in April. But who will end up paying for a better Muni?



In 2010, the SFMTA instituted a policy to raise Muni fares along with inflation and a number of other economic factors, essentially putting them on autopilot. The SFMTA board still has to approve the fee hikes, which may rise across the board.

fares One-time fares may jump to $2.25. Muni’s monthly passes would see an increase by $2 next year and more the following year. The “M” monthly pass will be $70 and the “A” pass (which allows Muni riders to ride BART inside San Francisco) will be $81.

Muni needs the money, Reiskin said.

“To not have (fares) escalate as fuel and health care costs increase, you can’t just leave one chunk of your revenues flat,” he told the Guardian. Muni’s operating budget will expand from $864 million this year to $958 million in 2016. “Salary and benefit growth is the biggest driver of that,” Reiskin said.

Mario Tanev, spokesperson for the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, said the hike was expected.

“We’re not necessarily against the inflation increase,” he said. “But though the parking fines SFMTA levies are inflation adjusted, other rates (against drivers) are not. There are many things in our society that disincentivize transit and incentivize driving.”

Drivers enjoy heavy subsidies to their lifestyle on the federal, state, and local levels, from parking lot construction, the cost of gasoline, and now it seems, renewed free Sunday parking meters. The new fare increases are hitting transit riders just as the mayor is poised to yank funding from Muni to put in the pockets of drivers.



When the paid Sunday meter pilot began in early 2013, it was a rare flip in a city that often treats Muni like a piggy bank: money was floated from drivers and dropped onto the laps of transit.

A report from SFMTA issued December 2013 hailed it as a success for drivers as well: Finding parking spaces in commercial areas on Sundays became 15 percent easier, the study found, and the time an average driver spent circling for a space decreased by minutes.

Even some in the business community call it a success, since a higher parking turnover translates to more customers shopping.

Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of public policy at the Chamber of Commerce, is a supporter of the paid Sunday meters. “You can drive into merchant areas now where you couldn’t before,” he told us.

Eliminating Sunday meter fees would punch a $9.6 million hole in Muni’s budget next year, by SFMTA’s account.

The timing couldn’t be worse. On the flip side the Free Muni for Youth program, which targets low-income youth in San Francisco, may expand next year at an estimated cost of about $3.6 million, and a program to offer free Muni for the elderly and disabled would cost between $4 and $6 million — close to the same the same amount that would be lost by the meter giveback.



“As an 18-year-old in high school it was a struggle to get to school, it was a struggle to find 75 cents or two dollars to get home,” Tina Sataraka, 19, told the SFMTA board last week. As a Balboa High School student, Sataraka had a 30-minute commute from the Bayview. She’s not alone.

A study by the San Francisco Budget & Legislative Analyst’s office found that 31,000 youth who faced similar financial hurdles had signed up for the Free Muni for Youth pilot program, a resounding success in a city where the youth population is dwindling. Authored by Sup. David Campos, the program may redefine “youth” to include 18-year-olds, who are often still in high school.

But initial grant funding for the program has dried up, so now Muni will foot the bill.

Not one to say “I told you so,” Sup. Scott Wiener said there were reasons for objecting to the program a year ago.

“My biggest, fundamental objection to the program was less that they were giving free fares to kids, and more that they were taking it out of Muni’s operating budget,” Wiener told us. “They need to find a way to pay for it, perhaps from the General Fund, and not just taking the easy and lazy way out.”

The Budget & Legislative Analyst recommended several options for alternative funding: special taxes on private shuttle buses (Google buses), or an increased vehicle license fee specially earmarked for the youth bus program. So far, Mayor Ed Lee hasn’t shown an interest.

“There haven’t been discussions of having the Board of Supervisors fund free Muni for youth,” Reiskin told us. The same goes for the mayor. And though Reiskin was cautious and political about the possibility of Sunday meters becoming free again, he didn’t sound happy about it.

“As for what’s behind [the mayor’s] call for free Sunday parking, that didn’t come from us,” Reiskin told us. “That came from him.”



Mayor Lee’s office didn’t answer our emails, but politicos, including Wiener and Chronicle bromance Matier and Ross, indicated the mayor may be reversing on Sunday parking meters to appease the driving voter electorate.

There are two measures up on the November ballot, and one is aimed right at drivers’ wallets.

The two measures, a $1 billion vehicle license fee hike, and a $500 million transportation bond, are both aimed at shoring up the SFMTA’s capital budget. An October poll paid for by the mayor showed 44 percent of San Franciscans in favor of a vehicle fee hike, and 50 percent against, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Reiskin said the loss of those two ballot measures would be crippling to Muni’s future.

“The improvements we’re trying to make to make Muni more reliable, more attractive, those won’t happen. This is our funding source for that,” he said.

The mayor is busy smoothing the potholes towards the bonds’ success in the November election, but it seems he’s willing to pile costs onto Muni and its riders to do it.

Correction 2/26: An editing error led to the erroneous calculation of Free Muni For Youth at near $9 million. Free Muni For Youth is only estimated to cost the SFMTA $3.6 million. It is the combination of Free Muni For Youth and free Muni for the disabled and elderly that equal about $9 million. 


Activists, union challenge Google bus pilot program


San Francisco activists and labor filed an appeal of the controversial commuter shuttle (aka, the Google buses) pilot program to the Board of Supervisors today, alleging it was pushed through without a proper environmental review. 

The appeal was filed by a coalition of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, SEIU 1021, The League of Pissed Off Voters, and Sara Shortt of the Housing Rights Committee. 

The shuttles, mostly to Silicon Valley tech firms, pick up passengers in Muni bus stops. The use of public bus stops would incur a $271 fine for private autos, and often do, but the shuttles have largely received a free pass from the city. Last month, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency approved of a pilot plan hatched behind closed doors that allows use of 200 bus stops by the private shuttles, charging only $1 per stop, per day.

The appeal alleges that the program needed review under the California Environmental Quality Act, which asks for projects to be analyzed for, among other things, land use, housing, and public health impacts. 

“CEQA actually identifies displacement as an environmental impact,” attorney Richard Drury, who filed the appeal on behalf of the coalition, told us. “Almost no one knows that. Honestly I didn’t know that, until I started researching all of this.”

If the Board of Supervisors doesn’t back the appeal, there may be a court battle on the environmental impact of the shuttle stops, which increase rents and home prices nearby. 

Paul Rose, spokeserpson for the SFMTA, responded to the complaint in an email to the Guardian.

“We developed this pilot proposal to help ensure the most efficient transportation network possible by reducing Muni delays and further reducing congestion on our roadways,” Rose wrote. “We are confident that the CEQA clearance is appropriate and will be upheld.”

In the meantime, Drury told us, the coalition is performing environmental research of its own. It has experts from the US Environmental Protection Agency and other organizations analyzing diesel outputs from the shuttles, as well as the impact of shuttles on displacement. 

“CEQA review needs to have a review before they start the pilot, not after,” Drury said. “They’re basically doing it backwards: let’s have 200 stops and 35,000 people in the service, and figure out what happens.”

Some studies conducted already show that affluence rises wherever the shuttle stops are placed. One by Chris Walker, a 29 year old in Mumbai, India, shows rising property values in and around the Google bus stops from 2011 to 2013.


This heatmap shows a rise in property values appreciated near shuttle stops.

“We see the Google Bus as a part of a larger effort to privatize public spaces and services, displacing both current residents and the public transportation system we rely on,” said Alysabeth Alexander, Vice President of SEIU Local 1021, in a statement. “San Francisco has a long history and tradition as a union town. With the tech takeover, San Francisco is becoming inhospitable to working class families. Our wages are stagnant, as the cost of everything is skyrocketing. This is a shame.”

Google ferry’s last ride is today


The Google-hired ferries skimming Bay Area waves are coming to the end of their pilot period, with their last scheduled rides running today, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Amidst the ire of San Francisco protesters fuming over Google buses, the company opted to experiment with alternatives to the buses: ferries. Two ferries from San Francisco and one from Alameda scooped up Google employees day by day for the month of January.

A Google spokesperson confirmed with the Bay Guardian that the pilot was ending. A source close to Google confirmed that they would “evaluate the results and viability of ferries as a more permanent solution.” 

No word from the protesters yet on if they’d block Google ferries via kayak, rowboat, or sloop.

For the full story, check out the Contra Costa Times piece, here.  

SFMTA Board approves tech shuttle plan

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of directors approved a pilot program today that allows operators of private commuter shuttles to use public bus stops, something they’ve been doing illegally for years on a very predictable basis.

The program will establish an “approved network” of 200 designated San Francisco stops where private shuttles may pick up and drop off passengers. It will issue permits and identifying placards to the private buses and require them to adhere to certain set of rules, like yielding to Muni buses if they approach the stop at the same time. (There’s already a Curb Priority Law stating that any vehicles not operated by Muni will be fined $271 for blocking a bus zone. But the city has chosen to ignore that law when it comes to private commuter shuttles.)

Finally, the program will charge shuttle operators $1 per stop per day, which covers the costs of the program implementation and no more.

The meeting drew a very high turnout that included the protesters who have been blockading the buses, Google employees, private commuter shuttle drivers, and residents of various San Francisco neighborhoods.

Sup. Scott Wiener spoke at the beginning of the meeting, saying he was fully supportive of the pilot program, which was developed over the course of many months in collaboration with tech companies who operate the shuttles.

“These shuttles are providing a valuable service,” Wiener said. He said he was sensitive to widespread “frustration and anxiety” around the high cost of housing and rising evictions, but thought it was unfair to blame tech workers. “We need to stop demonizing these shuttles and these tech workers,” Wiener said.

Then Sup. David Campos addressed the board. “I think it’s really important for us to have a dialogue to find common ground,” Campos said, adding that pushing shuttle riders into private automobiles was not a good outcome. But he also urged the SFMTA board to send the proposal back to the drawing board. “It’s a proposal that simply does not go far enough,” he said.

Campos was also critical of the SFMTA’s process of studying the growing private shuttle problem for years, drafting a proposal in collaboration with members of the tech community, and waiting until the eleventh hour once the plan had already been formulated to seek comment from community members who are impacted.

“Public input is being sought after the fact,” he said.

That feeling of being frozen out of the process was echoed in comments voiced throughout the public comment session, which went on for hours.

“I’m opposed to the $1 charge,” one woman said. “I believe it’s way, way, way too low.” She told a story of receiving a ticket for being parked in a bus zone very briefly. “It wasn’t a $1 ticket,” she said.

Another woman, who said she was born and raised in SF, said she’d been riding Muni since she was in diapers. “It makes me really sad that we have regional shuttles and corporations that are saying, you can’t just fix that system, we’re going to go around it,” she said. She urged members of the transit agency board to find a better system that would work for everyone, “because you are in charge.”

A Google employee told board directors that she is very pleased that the shuttles have made it possible for her to live in San Francisco. “Not everyone at Google is a billionaire,” she said. “Ten years after the fact I am still paying my student loans. This is a choice, I know, to live in San Francisco and commute to Mountainview. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Her perspective, however, came in sharp contrast to that of Roberto Hernandez, who spoke on behalf of Our Mission No Eviction and said he was worried that displacement caused by rising rents have forced many members of his community to move to the East Bay.

Hernandez also brought up a little-known consequence of transit delays caused by private shuttle buses.

In the elementary schools near 24th Street in the Mission, he said, “They have the breakfast program for people who are low-income. So if you show up late, you don’t get breakfast.”

Here’s Hernandez addressing the SFMTA board members.

In the end, the transit directors approved the pilot with very little discussion. “At the end of the day, this is before us as a transit issue,” said board member Malcolm Heinicke. “And we’re better with something than nothing.”

Nickels and dimes… or transit for our times?


STREET FIGHT Much has been written about the so-called “Google buses” and San Francisco’s latest round of gentrification. It’s a horrible mess and the city’s trifling $1 charge per bus stop will do little to address the broader structural problem that these buses lay bare.

Ordinary people cannot ride them, nor do the people who clean and cook for the tech world. Like tour buses, they are clunky and inappropriate for many neighborhood streets. While they do substitute for some car trips, an ad hoc private transit system does not reflect the kind of thoughtful regional planning needed to truly reduce car use in the Bay Area.

But the controversy over the private commuter buses does show that there is great potential for a public regional express bus system. Consider that in 1980, 9 percent of commuters in San Francisco left the city every day to go to work. In 2010, outbound commuters approached 25 percent. Owing to regional political fragmentation, Muni cannot provide intercounty service and thus is not the travel mode of choice for many of these commuters. And although Caltrain and BART offer some regional service, the sprawling locations of suburban firms often make regional rail impractical or at the very least time-consuming owing to unavoidable multiple transfers to local buses.

So in noteworthy ways, the rise of private transit is an immediate reaction to poor regional transit connections. Yet rather than sidestepping failed regional planning by encouraging an inequitable, two-tiered, private system, we need to expand and regionalize the existing public bus systems. San Francisco’s mayor and Board of Supervisors have seats at the table of regional planning and ought to use the controversy over private buses as an opportunity to kickstart the implementation of a regional public bus system accessible to all.

For example, something like AC Transit’s Transbay routes should be extended through San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, perhaps operated by BART or Caltrain as part of the next iteration of Plan Bay Area. This network would use reallocated express lanes on 101 and I-280 and use transit priority lanes on arterials like 19th Avenue in San Francisco and El Camino Real in San Mateo. Regional property assessments on the corporations and developers, in part already possible within the existing BART district (one should be created for Caltrain), could be used to fund such a system. Congestion charging on 101 and I-280 should also be deployed and those funds used for electrifying Caltrain and developing the parallel and complementary regional bus system.

Of course there will be opposition to a regional public bus system as there already is to progressive regional planning. Transit-connected, walkable communities in the South Bay, for example, have been made all but illegal by decades of conservative middle and upper class, anti-density, anti-tax homeowners in suburban localities. As recently as last year, this Tea Party-style conservative politics dampened Plan Bay Area, resulting in a weak regional housing plan with an underfunded and lackluster transit vision. This conservative approach stifles our collective sense of what is possible and the fear-mongering has rendered regional planners virtually impotent. Yet it can and must be overcome.

Some progressives may find it convenient (and in some cases justifiable) to target tech workers right now, but they could also direct energy into shaping the next round of Plan Bay Area. Remember that Plan Bay Area is a living document, a work in progress. The current version of the plan, weak on transit funding, has been subdued by a loud, irrational mob of Tea Party cranks bent on sabotaging anything that hints of progressive ideas. Plan Bay Area is also stifled by a regional business class that wants to keep the status quo and that is comfortable with the neoliberal model of private transit.

So while a smattering of dedicated and hard-working progressive transit activists showed up and attempted to shape Plan Bay Area last year, in the coming years the plan needs a broader progressive movement — including transit, housing, social justice, and environmental activists — to demand a more visionary regional transportation plan that connects all of the Bay Area. I am hopeful that this would not only steer regional planning in a progressive direction, but many of the tech workers who are now on the private buses would gladly join in the cause.



Speaking of hopeful, last month the SFMTA reported that Sunday metering, implemented last January, is a resounding success. Switching-on the meters doubled parking availability on Sundays, which is invariably what small businesses, most of which are open on Sunday, want to see.

Sunday meters increased the number of cars using city-owned garages and decreased the time cars circled in search of parking from an average of four minutes to two — de-cluttering streets in commercial districts. While this might seem like a boon to drivers, it also means less pollution, safer conditions for pedestrians and cyclists, less delay for Muni, and a much needed enhancement of revenue for operating public transit.

So it is mystifying that such success would be ignored by Mayor Ed Lee, who instead has proposed to discontinue Sunday metering. This is doubly confusing because, based on existing travel behavior to many commercial districts, 25 percent of people arrived by driving, while 31 percent took transit and 25 percent walked. So what the mayor is effectively saying to the pedestrian and transit-using majority is you matter little. What does matter is the few whining motorists who called him to complain about being “nickel and dimed.”

The mayor talks a good game when saying he is truly concerned about pedestrian and cyclist safety, and insisting that he wants to fix Muni. But gutting a reliable source of operating funds and pandering to car drivers who will dangerously circle for parking is inconsistent.

Lee says money isn’t an issue because his proposed General Obligation bond (which must be approved by voters) will patch the lost revenue from Sunday metering. But the GO bond will incur further debt and only fund existing capital needs, while parking meters provide a debt-free steady revenue stream for Muni. It’s also slightly misleading because the bond would not cover Muni operations, while revenue from Sunday metering does pay for operations.

The mayor’s pandering also put the SFMTA Board of Directors, which has been working out parking management and Muni finance, on the spot. Ultimately, it has to vote to preserve or scrap Sunday metering in the coming months. Now the directors have to decide if they support transit-first or the mayor’s pandering.

Unfortunately, when it comes to parking policy, the way that the Board of Supervisors has behaved lately suggests it will either jump on the mayor’s bandwagon and pander to motorists or cower in silence as good public policy is trashed. Not a good situation at City Hall, where transit riders seem to be routinely thrown under the bus by the political establishment.

Street Fight is a monthly column by Jason Henderson, an urban geography professor at San Francisco State University.

Talking points for Google busers

TechCrunch is reporting that a Google employee leaked an internal memo the Silicon Valley tech firm circulated to its employees, urging them to provide public comment on the controversial proposal to sanction its private shuttles’ use of city bus stops.

Here are the talking points Googlers were supposedly told to highlight in comments to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency at tomorrow’s (Tue/21) meeting, when the transit board will vote on the proposal.

  • I am so proud to live in San Francisco and be a part of this community
  • I support local and small businesses in my neighborhood on a regular basis
  • My shuttle empowers my colleagues and I to reduce our carbon emissions by removing cars from the road
  • If the shuttle program didn’t exist, I would continue to live in San Francisco and drive to work on the peninsula*
  • I am a shuttle rider, SF resident, and I volunteer at…..
  • Because of the above, I urge the Board to adopt this pilot as a reasonable step in the right direction

The leaked memo, according to TechCrunch, also noted that “While you are not required to state where you work, you may confirm that Google is your employer if you are so inclined. If you do choose to speak in favor of the proposal we thought you might appreciate some guidance on what to say. Feel free to add your own style and opinion.”

According to the article, the memo was leaked to the activists who have been organizing tech bus blockades by an employee who found it “a bit high handed.” In turn, the activists sent it to TechCrunch.

*Not according to the study that was mentioned by the SFMTA at the SF Environment Commission last week.

What “Google bus” really means


EDITORIAL In recent years, “Google bus” has become a term that encompasses more than just the shuttles that one corporation uses to transport its workers from San Francisco down to the Silicon Valley. It has taken on a symbolic meaning representing the technology sector’s desire to shield itself from the infrastructure, values, and responsibilities that most citizens choose to share.

These are the very things that motivate many of us to live here, finding that community spirit in such a beautiful, world-class city. More than just the great restaurants and bars, its vistas and artistic offerings, San Francisco represents an experiment in modern urbanism and cultural development.

It is this collision and collusion of disparate yet public-spirited cultures that gave birth to the region’s great economic and social movements, from gay rights and environmentalism to groundbreaking academic research and the creation of the Internet economy.

The antithesis of this idea of creative collaboration is to consider San Francisco just 49 square miles of valuable real estate, to be used and developed as the highest bidder sees fit, as some tech titans seem to believe. It’s ironic that an industry based on creating online communities would place so little value on engaging with its physical community.

The proposed $1 per bus stop use, and $50 per docking that new exclusive Google ferry is paying, is a privatization of public space that barely covers the city’s costs. The tech industry should be doing much more just to counteract its negative impacts on the city’s economy, let alone actually being good corporate citizens of this region.

A new report called for by the Mayor’s Office says Muni needs a $10 billion investment over the next 15 years just to maintain current service levels. A big chunk of that should come from the wealthy corporations in our community through a downtown transit assessment district and higher fees on Silicon Valley companies that are using us as a bedroom community.

San Francisco writer Rebecca Solnit has been developing a critique of the Google bus since her initial shot last February in the London Review of Books, answering a subsequent techie/enviro criticism published in Grist with a Jan. 7 article in Guernica called “Resisting Monoculture.”

“And thus come the well-paid engineers to San Francisco, and thus go the longtime activists, idealists, artists, teachers, plumbers, all the less-well-paid people,” she writes, citing surveys that the buses allow Silicon Valley workers to live in San Francisco when they otherwise wouldn’t.

That’s the issue. The only thing green about Google buses are the piles of money their riders and their bosses are keeping from the city we all share. Segregated buses have never been a good idea, but if these companies insist on them, that should come with a higher price tag.


Mayor Lee addresses Google bus controversy


At a press conference on affordable housing today, the Guardian asked Mayor Ed Lee about San Francisco’s favorite pinata: tech buses. The monstrous private shuttles, which daily whisk tech workers away to Silicon Valley, currently use Muni bus stops without paying fines, like most private autos do. 

In Guardian News Editor Rebecca Bowe’s article in the print edition of the Bay Guardian this week, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson Paul Rose tells her that although there is a proposal in the works to regulate them, the SFMTA won’t profit a single dime from the plan. 

“We are developing these policies to better utilize the boarding zones for these shuttle providers,” Rose said. “What we’re trying to do is provide a more efficient transportation network.”

But everyone in San Francisco who has ever ridden Muni knows that it struggles to run on time, and chronic underfunding is a perennial Muni problem. It even hurts the city’s bottom line, depressing our economy by over $50 million a year, according a report from the city earlier this May.

The report also highlights the cost to overhaul Muni between now and the year 2020: over $167 million would be needed to overhaul the system.

So why not make a few bucks from tech companies using Muni stops, who, according to the city, cause Muni delays? 

We asked Mayor Ed Lee that very question at a press conference today. You can listen to his answer in the audio embedded below, or read the transcript for yourself. 

San Francisco Bay Guardian: “Housing is one aspect of this, but transportation is another. The MTA’s plan to deal with tech buses is cost neutral. Is that a missed opportunity to get additional funding for Muni?”

Mayor Ed Lee: “Not a missed opportunity. That’s the essence of that 2030 task force, transportation task force, that we put together where they send a report to me, I’m in a process of reviewing all aspects of that. 

Muni officials themselves were directly involved in producing that very comprehensive review along with our Planning Department and many in fact all of the departments here had implemented them.

Transportation is not just about Muni, it’s about all the modes of how people get around the city. You can’t forget that, because that’s a really big part of the task force’s work.

How to get people walking. How to get them bicycling safer and more. How to get cars less, and the cars that do, get them through where they have to go without stalling and congesting. 

How do you invest in Muni? In its assets, in its transportation, in all of its aspects. How do you work with taxis and all the other car-sharing and automobile sharing companies. It’s not just about taxis, by the way. I hear from my taxi friends as I walk around City Hall, they don’t want to be left behind so we want to bring them in to see the new exciting use of Uber carshare and Lyft… all of those modes have to be paid attention to at the highest level, including investing in the assets of Muni.

I want Muni to be the choice.”

Earlier in the press conference Lee voiced his opposition to all of the hatred pointed at tech companies. 

“People, stop blaming tech, tech companies,” he said. “They want to work on a solution. I think it’s unfortunate that some voices want to pit one economic sector they view as successful against the rest of our challenge. The reality is they’re only eight percent of our economy.” 

We tried to ask a follow up question, but at the end of his answer on Muni, the mayor’s spokesperson Christine Falvey told the Guardian “We’re going to go on a tour now, this is off topic.”

Bus stop


Each weekday, gleaming white buses operated by Google and other Silicon Valley tech giants roll through congested San Francisco streets and pause for several minutes in public bus stops, picking up passengers bound for sprawling tech campuses.

Using bus zones for private passenger pickup is not legal — but so far, that hasn’t resulted in any kind of systematic enforcement. It did boil over as an issue when it became the focal point of the Dec. 9 Google bus blockade, a Monday morning rush hour episode staged by anti-gentrification activists that went viral thanks to Bay Guardian video coverage, spurring commentary by Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and dozens of other media outlets.



The significance of the private buses as a symbol for an economically divided San Francisco, private service that spares a high-salaried class of workers from the delays, crowds, and service breakdowns that can plague Muni, has never been more resonant. The shuttles are frequently mentioned in conjunction with eviction and displacement, since apartment units in proximity to shuttle routes have become more desirable and expensive.

And as more shuttles are sent out to transport passengers, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has come under increasing pressure to solve the logistical and other problems they create.

“Our policies are catching up to this new transportation mode,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said in a recent phone call. “The shuttle service has been growing very rapidly.”

Accordingly, SFMTA is working on a pilot program to allow Google and other providers of private shuttle buses to share space in Muni bus zones in an organized fashion. The policy would establish a set of guidelines around boarding and alighting, implement measures to prevent Muni delays, create a formal permitting process, and require the shuttles to display identifying placards.

Although Muni needs funding to improve its aging infrastructure (see “Street Fight”), this plan to accommodate private shuttles would not result in any new revenue collection for the agency. Google and other private shuttle providers would be charged a fee under the program, but it would go only toward cost recovery, allowing the agency to break even.

Leslie Dreyer, one of the masterminds behind the Google bus blockade, calculated that the SFMTA could theoretically collect $1 billion if it aggressively targeted private shuttles for violating the Curb Priority Law, which prohibits vehicles other than Muni from using designated bus zones.

“It’s a ballpark estimate,” Dreyer said, describing her project as more of a thought experiment to illustrate a broader point. “We were trying to get people to think about … the bigger issue of what these things symbolize: evictions, gentrification.”

Dreyer based her findings on a color-coded chart released by SFMTA in July, showing the frequency of shuttle stops at 200 known locations. Paul Rose insisted the $1 billion estimate was too high because the total number of daily private shuttle trips is actually lower. He added that it’s more than just Google that is using the stops: At least 27 institutions and employers provide private shuttles in SF, according to data compiled by SFMTA.

But even based on the information that Rose provided, that same calculation shows that Muni could collect $500-600 million in fines from all the shuttle providers. That’s theoretically enough to augment a sizeable portion of Muni’s annual operating budget, which is around $800 million.

The pilot program for sharing bus zone space with private shuttles is expected to be reviewed by the SFMTA board early next year, and it could be implemented by July of 2014. It does not require approval by the Board of Supervisors.



In the meantime, given that Google and other private shuttle providers are in rather obvious violation of a law prohibiting them from doing what they do every weekday like clockwork, why doesn’t the SFMTA bother to enforce the law?

Rose offered several answers to this question, but most just pointed to more questions.

The fine for violating the law that prohibits vehicles other than Muni from using bus zones is $271, Rose confirmed. According to a Strategic Analysis Report prepared for the SFMTA in June of 2011, which notes that the Curb Priority Law is part of the City Transportation Code, “enforcement … has been limited.”

“We have only so many resources, and most enforcement is based on complaints,” Rose explained.

But the same strategic analysis report, dating back to 2011, shows that a great number of complaints have flowed in from disgruntled transit riders.

“The frequency of public comment and complaints regarding bus zone conflicts … may indicate a more problematic situation than these limited data imply,” a portion of the 2011 study noted after presenting the results of a field study, in which some analyst was presumably sent out to physically observe the private shuttle buses (illegally) stopping in the bus zones.

Rose’s contention that a lack of complaints was behind the lack of enforcement didn’t really seem to hold up, but he offered another reason, too. “We’d have to ID the bus,” he explained. “There isn’t an identity placard or permit to ID them specifically.”

Establishing an identification system is one of the goals of the pilot program now under consideration, he added. Then again, Google buses have license plates. And if SFMTA has the capability to do anything well, it’s to harness license plate data as a mechanism for collecting fines from offending motorists.

In fact, officers under the parking enforcement division of the SFMTA use an automated system called AutoVu Patroller, made by a tech company called Genetech (not to be confused with Genentech, a pharmaceutical giant that has its own fleet of buses transporting San Francisco employees to its South Bay campus).



The AutoVu patroller starts automatically when a parking enforcement officer fires up the on-board computer. It works by scanning license plates as the parking vehicles cruise down the street, using plate recognition technology to feed the data into a system that checks the identifying numbers against an existing hotlist.

When a hit occurs, it’s automatically flagged on screen. With the flick of an index finger, an enforcement officer can instantly bring up a vehicle’s model, year, and VIN. If a vehicle lacks a permit, it automatically generates a hit, signaling that enforcement may be needed. Then there’s the obvious point that Google buses and other shuttles are highly visible, and stopping all the time — whether or not an enforcement officer has a license plate scanner or not.

But at the end of the day, the private shuttles are treated differently from other kinds of vehicles that are found to be in violation of the transportation code. No matter what the laws on the books say, it’s difficult to imagine the SFMTA or the SFPD, which also has enforcement power, causing tech employees to be late to work as they roll through the city in climate-controlled coaches with tinted windows.

Far from targeting the shuttles for enforcement, an in-depth conversation has actually been taking place between the shuttle providers and SFMTA for quite some time, with representatives from the Planning Department and other agencies brought to the table as well.

The SFMTA actually regards the shuttles as being somewhat helpful, Rose said, since they get drivers out of their cars and into pooled transportation modes, thereby helping to alleviate congestion.

“We are developing these policies to better utilize the boarding zones for these shuttle providers,” Rose explained. “What we’re trying to do is provide a more efficient transportation network.”

To that end, the city has organized a series of stakeholder meetings in recent years with Google, Apple, Adobe, Genentech, the University of California San Francisco, and other shuttle providers to design a way for Muni buses and private buses to coexist in harmony, in city bus zones. Those conversations were referenced in the 2011 report; three years later, the pilot program is expected to solidify those discussions into a formalized system.

Here and there, some bus zones have already been altered to accommodate the private shuttle buses. “[An] extension of the Muni zone on 8th Street (in the South of Market) appears to be working well; although SFMTA Staff report that shuttle operators using the new zone have balked at the suggestion that they should help pay for the $1,500 improvement,” the 2011 strategic analysis noted.

The plan that’s coming down the pipe will essentially serve to legitimize what the shuttles are already doing. But so far, this deal won’t result in any financial gain for the transportation agency. If it goes forward as planned, the opportunity to make transit improvements by collecting revenue from private companies that use public infrastructure will be passed up.

Bus riding tech workers respond to national spotlight on evictions


Evictions are rippling through San Francisco. Tensions are high. Tech workers with gobs of cash are driving up the rental market in what may be the newest tech bubble — or the city’s new reality. Protesters took to the street earlier this week, blocking a Google bus to draw attention to gentrification, and our video of a union organizer posing as a Google employee shouting down those protesters lit up the Internet

In the wake of that national spotlight on San Francisco’s outrage, the Bay Guardian decided to talk to the bus-riding techies themselves and ask how they felt about the new tech revolution. Are they at fault for displacing long time San Franciscans? What did they make of Monday’s outrage?

We returned to the scene of the protest, 24th and Valencia streets, where workers from Yahoo, Genentech, Google, and others line up at Muni stops to be whisked away in mammoth private buses. Most had hands in their pockets, turning away when asked questions. Others decided to talk, but none would go on the record with their names.

“We’re very aware of the sentiment in the city against us,” one tech worker with grey hair and glasses told us. “But hopefully this (protest) leads to a positive conversation.”

He said that the envy was understandable. Public transit in the city “isn’t the best,” he said, but pointing to any one company to be at fault isn’t productive. 

“Our economy lacks upward mobility, and the haves and have-nots are divided all over the country,” he said, not just in San Francisco. 

But some of the techies themselves are “have nots,” as one tech worker, a middle-aged Java programmer sitting in Muddy Waters cafe, could attest to. As we watched the tech buses ride by, he told the Guardian he’s been out of work for a few months now. He used to work for a computer sketch software company called Balsamiq. 

He’s lived in the city for 22 years. When he first moved into town, he lucked into renting a room for $175 a month. Now his rent is much, much higher, though he wouldn’t say by how much.

This is not the viral video of the staged argument, but from the same day. A protester enters the Google bus, and a bus rider shouts her out.

“I’m sympathetic,” he said, of the discord on rising rents. “But getting rid of tech isn’t the solution.” He pointed to a need for more affordable housing.

A blonde haired Apple employee told us that although he makes more money than the average San Franciscan, he can’t afford to buy a home here. He’s lived in the city three years, and worked at Apple for four. He took a balanced view of the protest, saying the stunt started a national look at inequality.

“It’s keeping (the conversation) at the front and center. You could argue it’s not fair to target one company, but I see both sides,” he said. 

Tech should do its part to pay its fair share, the 19-year cafe owner of Muddy Waters said. Hisham Massarweh said he likes the tech folk, who are great for business. But the transit issue needs to be worked out, he said. He once got a $250 ticket for parking in the same bus stop outside his store that the tech buses park in every day — ticket and permit free. 

Across the street, Jordan Reznick, a PhD student and teacher at California College of the Arts, said she’s seen many of her friends displaced. “I feel a lot of animosity towards Google and Google workers,” she said, as we sat just behind a line of Google employees waiting for their bus.

“I live in a small place with a family of four,” she told us, as it’s the best she could find in this market.

As she ran off to catch her ride to work, the Guardian approached a man who sat waiting for the same Google bus that was protested earlier in the week. 

“San Francisco doesn’t have its shit together,” he said. The protest was about housing, but San Francisco needs to address that fast. And as for the Google buses, there’s no framework for Google to pay the city, yet. “If they could (pay) they would, going forward I’m sure they will.”

We asked him point blank if he felt guilty watching longtime San Franciscans lose their homes. 

He took a drag of his cigarette, looked me in the eye, and said, “Every day. I love San Francisco with all my heart, and I feel tremendously guilty. Every day.”

As the bus pulled up he hopped on and headed to Mountain View.

UPDATE: Union organizer shouts down protesters as they block private Google shuttle


Protesters blocked a private Google shuttle on Valencia street today, decrying private shuttle’s use of public bus stops without paying fees or fines.

The group of 20 or so neon-yellow vested protesters called themselves the “San Francisco Displacement and Neighborhood Impact Agency.” The company doesn’t pay San Francisco a dime to use the Muni stops — fines that private auto drivers pay regularly.

UPDATE 3:58pm: Just how does a story go from breaking, to verification, to “holy shit it’s all over the internet now?” Here’s our interview with Fake Google Employee Max Alper, and our recount of how it all went down:

UPDATE 12:32pm: Various tips have streamed in that this shout-out was staged. Protest organizer Leslie Dreyer talked to us on the phone and verified that this person’s identity was Max Bell Alper, a union organizer from Oakland. This person was not a Google employee, and Dreyer was not able to verify if Alper was there in the morning with the group of 20-30 protesters. The Guardian is attempting to contact Alper for comment. Dreyer said she, as an organizer, was unaware that the “performance” had been planned. We are following this as it develops.

UPDATE 1:06pm: Within an hour of our original post, the Guardian learned that Max Bell Alper, a union organizer with Unite Here Local 2850 was the man shouting down Google bus protesters earlier this morning. We asked Alper what motivated him to impersonate a Google employee.

This is political theater to demonstrate what is happening to the city. It’s about more than just the bus. These are enormous corporations that are investing in this community. These companies, like Google, should be proud of where they’re from and invest in their communities,” he said.

When asked if he intentiionally intended to deceive media, he replied “People are talking all over the country about what’s happening in San Francisco (referring to evictions and displacement). That’s the debate we need to have here. The more we talk about it, the more we think about it, the more we’re going to see the tech companies need to contribute.”

 Alper said that he did not intend to engage in theater before going to the protest, but when there made the decision, “spontaneously,” to stage the argument. When he maintained his story that this was political theater, we again asked why he did not verify his name at the protest itself — and only after the story blew up in national and local media.

This was improv political theater,” he said.

Original post follows:

The SFMTA has a pilot plan in the works to regulate private use of public bus stops.

Though the private shuttles were the crux of the day’s protest, the heart of the fight is over gentrification. As the tech revolution in SF leads to rising rents and longtime San Franciscans are being displaced.

In the video, a union organizer who hopped off the bus shouts down Erin McElroy, staging an argument with a protester who also heads the eviction mapping project. “How long have you lived in this city?” McElroy asked him. He shouted back “Why don’t you go to a city that can afford it? This is a city for the right people who can afford it. You can’t afford it? You can leave. I’m sorry, get a better job.”

“What kind of fucking city is this?” he shouted, and then walked off. He mentioned repeatedly that he couldn’t get to work because the bus was blocked, and did exit the bus (indicated he was a Google employee), but the Guardian (nor a nearby Al Jazeera reporter) could not verify his job title or name. If anyone has any tips as to the identity of this man, please contact us at 

(UPDATE 12:12 PM — The Guardian amended the headline to reflect our story more accurately, that though this man exited the bus and claimed he was late for work, we have not yet verified his employment at Google)

We’ll have more on this story later in the day, for now, check out footage from the protest.)

Keep choppin’


CULTURE It’s 6:35pm in Hunters Point and Poll Brown is about to be late to a documentary about himself. The puckish man from South End, Essex, and a small crew of bikers are scrambling to fix a snapped throttle cable. This is a way of life for them: always under the gun, always fixing things, always a little behind. Like a rag-tag task force, they rip a cable out of one bike and marry it to another. There’s not enough time.

At 7pm, after a hairy ride up the 101, lane-splitting between Google buses on Van Ness, Poll is inside the Opera Plaza Cinema for the premiere of Dirtbag.

“We had a bet — just between four buddies,” Brown says in the film, with his gravelly English accent. “It got to be who could build a custom motorcycle for the least money.”

And thus was born the Dirtbag Challenge, which marks its 10th year this Sunday with more rock music, BBQ, and custom motorcycles doing burnouts than is healthy for any person’s ears, lungs, cholesterol, or psyche. The rules have changed a bit since 2003, but here’s the way they currently stand: 1) build a motorcycle in one month; 2) spend less than $1,000; 3) no Harley-Davidsons; 4) the bike must complete a 60- to 100-mile ride.

The restrictions are designed to bring out the creativity and ingenuity of the builders. The first few years without the 100-mile ride rule attracted several very artistic bikes — some more sculpture than road-ready. (One year, a bike with a partially wooden frame went home in splinters.) As for the no-Harley rule, “the quintessential chopper will always be a Harley-Davidson,” explains Poll. “No matter how bad, if a Harley shows up, it still might win.”

Director Paolo Asuncion’s doc chronicles the 2009 Dirtbag Challenge. “When we started, we were going to do ‘This is about the industry’,” he says. He went so far as to interview bike-building royalty like Arlen Ness. “But by the end of filming, all those high-dollar guys didn’t really belong to the story we were trying to tell.”

Overall, the film is a fun look at a unique subculture of motorcycling. By its end, you get a sense that the Dirtbag is more than just a biker build-off — it’s an idea with a spirit behind it. Asuncion drives the point home with the final word of the film, which was met with roars of approval from the crowd: “This documentary was edited in under a month. And making this entire film cost under a thousand dollars.”

After the screening, Brown says, “I’m blown away. It’s interesting to watch something you’ve created have such a positive influence on so many people.”

Pinky McQueen, longtime organizer of the event, has one honest critique. “I realize the movie was spotlighting the builders in particular, but as far as the [Dirtbag Challenge] party goes, there are so many people who selflessly put in countless hours for free to make sure the event [goes] off without a hitch.”

A few days later, one such volunteer, Emily Wakeman, says, “The movie inspired me to just go with our skill set.” With 16 days to go until this year’s event, she and her friends have a running bike and are getting ready to mount a brake light in an old, mud-filled trombone — donated from the Great Guerneville Flood of ’86.

“We’ve spent more money on beer than we have on parts,” confesses fellow builder Shannon Jones.

In Bayview, master fabricator Turk is exactly $521 into his Yamaha-powered, side-car equipped dragster bike. He enjoys the educational side of the Dirtbag Challenge. “It shows that if you want to build a motorcycle, you can,” he says. “If you don’t know how, you can get help.”

Jason Pate is working against the clock in Fremont. Having spent around $800, he has a running bike constructed from no less than six different motorcycles. His son, Jason Pate II, says Brown was here yesterday and showed him how to clean out carburetors. Meanwhile, San Jose resident Alex “Koska” Verbisky — originally from Moldova — is at exactly $1,000. His 1969 Honda CB450 has a wacky new set of handlebars made from Suzuki shock parts and a Volkswagen camshaft.

Up in Orland, Casey Anderson, a professional chopper builder featured in the film, is about $580 into his build, converting a 1979 Honda touring bike to look like a 1928 BMW R62. Thirty minutes south through walnut and olive orchards, in Willows, Kyle Cannon’s son Michael is building a bike for credit in shop class with his pals Joseph and Jake Martin. And down the road, Josh Stine is overcoming his muscular dystrophy, building a bike he hopes he will sell to supplement his Social Security check.

It’s inspiring — a quality that’s fitting for a volunteer-run event that promotes creativity, self-expression, and self-reliance, and encourages learning and community. Participants build strange, mutant vehicles. And it all started as a small gathering of friends near the waters of San Francisco. Sound like any other event you know?

“At first begrudgingly and now gratefully, I accept comparisons to Burning Man,” says Brown.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he likes it. The biggest difference between the Burn and the Dirtbag is that there’s simply no way to throw money at the Dirtbag. Ten years in, the event is still free and no one is getting paid. Brown even recently sold his van to finance a cross-country motorcycle trip.

“If I did want to make this a money-making enterprise, the potential is there,” says Brown toward the end of the film. “[But] I’m not sure if I’m ever gonna actually do that, because that might remove the soul from it.” *


Sun/13, 2pm, free

End of Quesada St, SF

Street Fight: Plan Bay Area falls short of a worthy goal


Last week’s adoption of Plan Bay Area by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission was a watershed moment in regional planning. The plan links regional planning to state policies mandating reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and aims to limit future sprawl by accommodating 2.1 million people, 1 million jobs, and 660,000 housing units largely within the existing built-up areas of the nine-county region.

Newly designated priority development areas (PDAs) will enable modest-density, walkable development in city and suburb alike, while preserving both existing single-family neighborhoods and open space. In a time of urgent need to address global warming, the Bay Area has once again proved a leader by enabling compact housing around transit, and its supporting studies expect the per capita greenhouse gas emissions from driving to decline by 15 percent in 2040.

This will not save the world and it’s not without some challenging byproducts — such as preventing displacement of low-income residents from San Francisco and other urban centers — but it is a start. And in a nation hell-bent on denying the urgency of global warming, it is refreshing and inspiring that someone, somewhere, is trying to do something.   

Yet the transportation component – the lynchpin and impetus of Plan Bay Area, according to many local leaders –is mediocre, uninspiring, and inadequate.  Despite land use policies enabling compact development, 80 percent of all travel in the Bay Area will still be in cars in 2040, not much different from today, and far short of the real change that is needed in this time of urgency. With 2 million more people, this is a recipe for gridlock, inequity, and ecological disaster – not sound public policy. 

 It should be no surprise that a big part of the problem is funding. The MTC, charged with assessing future regional transit potential, identifies just $289 billion between now and 2040 for roads, bridges, and transit — far short of what’s needed.  At $10.3 billion a year that may seem like a lot, but upwards of 87 percent of this is already committed to maintenance of existing roads and transit– not transit capacity expansion.  New homes and jobs might be focused around BART and Caltrain stations, but because there’s no real capacity expansion, the current iteration of Plan Bay Area can’t even reach its own modest goal of 74 percent of trips by car in 2040. 

With 2 million more people, cumulative emissions from driving will actually increase by 18 percent because so few new residents will be able to squeeze onto our already crowded transit systems.  Today BART is breaking ridership records but it is crowded. Extensions to far flung suburbs might be worthwhile but they don’t expand capacity in the system’s core. What we need is a second BART line and/or Amtrak service between San Francisco and Oakland, but this is absent from the plan. Meanwhile, most mainline Muni buses and railcars are currently jam-packed, yet San Francisco is somehow expected to absorb 92,000 housing units in Plan Bay Area.

Supervisors David Campos and Scott Weiner, representing San Francisco in the Plan Bay Area process, are to be commended for drawing attention to the transit problem and for asking MTC staff to show how to meet future funding gaps. By broaching the subject, they show that San Francisco might be poised to lead on this critical issue. But Campos and Weiner, working within the “fiscally constrained envelope” as framed by MTC planners, were only seeking to cover deficits for existing service – not visionary expanded service.  In the end, there was no real vision for adequate transit capacity expansion.

This foretells a troubling transit future – and one that will likely be more and more private. While many San Franciscans decry the proliferation of Google buses and other private corporate shuttles hogging Muni stops, these buses do lay bare the transit conundrum in the Bay Area. Without well-funded, visionary capacity expansion of public transit, those with the means (and high wage jobs) will shift to private buses while everyone else is left to duke it out on crowded highways, buses, and trains.

This conundrum demands that progressives in the Bay Area ramp up their transit politics to lead locally and nationally. The debate about transit finance needs to be redirected – away from regressive local sales tax measures (which often include more roads) back towards more progressive measures, such as transit assessment districts – which could require developers who profit from Plan Bay Area’s growth incentives to adequately finance transit expansion.

The debate needs to move away from demonizing public transit employees to a discussion of the role and responsibility of corporate health care, banks, and the real estate industry in causing economic instability (which has harmed public transit finance more in the last decade than a bus driver expecting a living wage and healthcare). The debate needs to move away from creating new roadway capacity, such as exclusive toll lanes, and focus on how to convert existing highway lanes into transit-only lanes with fast, frequent, reliable regional bus service open to all.

Plan Bay Area is a living document, a work in progress. Within the next four-five years it will need to be revised and can be improved.  The current version of the plan, weak on transit funding, has been dominated by a loud, irrational mob of Tea Party cranks bent on sabotaging anything that hints of progressive ideas. They were successful in diluting Plan Bay Area. While a smattering of progressive transit activists showed up and attempted to shape the plan, next time the plan needs a broader progressive movement — including housing, social justice, and environmental activists — to demand a truly visionary transportation plan.


Jason Henderson is a geography professor at San Francisco State University and the author of Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco. We’ll be sharing his perspective regularly in the Bay Guardian.

The Google-bus elitism


I’ve been waiting for the Chron’s culture columnist Caille Millner to finally write about something interesting, and I got it April 27 when she stumbled onto the Google Buses. Or rather, the problem with the Google buses.

Thanks to the Chron’s silly paywall, you can’t read her column online, and since hardly anyone in San Franciso buys the Chronicle anymore, Millner’s story won’t get the attention it should. So allow me to repeat some of it here:

It was close to 9 p.m., and I was waiting at a bus stop on an island in the middle of Market Street. Next to me stood a tired-looking middle-aged woman who had clearly just left work. While we waited, up cruised the big white pod. It paused right in front of us. The door at the front slid open to discharge a few Googlers, and the luggage door on the lower right side of the bus also slid open to allow them access to their belongings.

One gentleman bounced down the bus steps and pushed his way in front of us to get his bicycle from beneath the bus. As he hurled it out onto the bus island, it hit the woman standing next to me. She glanced at me, mute and horrified, and in that moment I sensed that she didn’t feel able to confront him. So I did.

“Excuse you,” I said loudly.

>No response. He was busy fumbling with his messenger bag

“You hit her,” I yelled.

He glanced up in no particular direction, as though suddenly troubled by the buzz of an insect. Circling his head around, he finally noticed where he was – the bus stop, the night, the fact that there were other people around him.

“Sorry?” he asked the air, in a tone of confusion. Then he climbed on his bicycle and pedaled away. He never looked at the woman he had hit.

There’s a sense of entitlement about the rich, and the young rich are often the worst. And that’s one reason why the logic of the Google bus — it’s better to have a single luxury vehicle haul all those people to work than have them all drive cars — doesn’t register with a lot of us. They’re too good for Caltrain. They’re too good for Muni. And they’re too damn good to bother to notice that they’ve hit an old lady.