San Francisco’s Google Buses Attacked in Lawsuit

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Google Inc. employees board a bus that will take them to the company's campus, in Mountain View, from San Francisco, California.

The Google Inc. (GOOG) shuttle buses that have become a focal point for social justice protests in San Francisco ought to be outlawed, a community group and a municipal employee union said in a lawsuit against the city.

A growing number of private coaches with blackened windows, upholstered seats and Wi-Fi that shuttle employees of Google, Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Facebook Inc. to Silicon Valley have fueled a debate about inequality in a city where software engineers just out of college can expect to make more than $100,000-a-year. Their drivers and other residents who make half that amount are paying $2-a-ride on public buses and struggling to keep up with fast-rising rents.

It isn't fair that the city collects only $1 from the shuttle buses for each public bus stop they use, Aaron Peskin, former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and a member of the community group suing the city, said in a statement. He called the contribution from Google, Apple, Genentech Inc. and other companies “a pittance.”

“Car pooling and getting additional cars off the street is important, but it doesn’t mean you go about it this way, as a giveaway, which is what this program is, without any alternatives considered,” Peskin said. “This program was created by the tech industry for the tech industry.”

The defendants in the lawsuit include the city’s transit system, Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation Inc., technology companies that use the shuttles and other transit firms. They’re accused of violating a state law that prohibits private buses from parking in bus zones, according to a complaint filed yesterday in San Francisco state court.

Environmental Impact

The program is also illegal because the city didn’t study the environmental impact of the buses, or alternatives to them, according to the complaint filed by the Coalition for Fair, Legal and Environmental Transit, SEIU Local 1021 and other activists.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced an 18-month pilot program in January that allows the private buses to use 200 public bus stops to pick up workers for a fee. The program may raise tens of thousands of dollars a month from the largest ride providers, the city said in January.

With the highest rents in the country and rental evictions at a seven-year peak, the rising presence of company-funded buses in densely populated neighborhoods has led to protests and occasional violence in a city known for tolerance.

More than 350 private shuttles have more than 35,000 boardings a day at public bus stops, according to the complaint. The city exempted the program from environmental review while a public bus transit effectiveness program is currently undergoing environmental study, according to the complaint.

“We haven’t seen the complaint and it’s premature to comment,” said Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the San Francisco City Attorney’s office.

The case is Coalition for Fair, Legal and Environmental Transit v. City and County of San Francisco, California Superior Court, San Francisco County (San Francisco).

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Gullo in federal court in San Francisco at kgullo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net Peter Blumberg, Fred Strasser

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