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Number of ‘Google Bus Stops’ grow, even in the west, activists say

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(Courtesy antievictionmap.squarespace.com)
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Where the “Google buses” go, evictions follow.

And those private shuttles are expanding all across The City, with more than 20 new stop locations and over 600 more annual pickups made by shuttles so far in 2015, compared to last year, according to new data.

Those are the assertions of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and some advocates suing San Francisco and various tech companies. The goal of the suit is to compel an environmental review of the Commuter Shuttle Pilot Program, which legalized private commuter shuttle activity.

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The data on the growing number of private commuter shuttles, nicknamed “Google buses” comes via public records requests of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency by activist Sue Vaughan.

Vaughan is one of the litigants in the lawsuit, along with local activist Sara Shortt and the local SEIU.

Mapping project activist Erin McElroy famously protested a Google Bus in 2013, along with groups like Heart of the City, demanding Google and other tech companies help stem evictions.

“We found that evictions were up 69 percent more in proximity to [shuttle] stops between 2011 and 2013,” McElroy said, adding the newer commuter shuttle stops would likely bring higher rents and evictions.

The mapping project also released an interactive map last week, showing new commuter shuttle stops in the west and south ends of San Francisco:

There are new stops on Arguello Boulevard in the Richmond and Monterey Boulevard on the south end of The City, for instance.

Those areas are not typically thought of as tech hubs. Some of the new stops, however, are close to the Mission, a popular tech worker destination.

There are also more pickups made by those shuttles annually. Between June 2014 and July 2015 there were 2,978 “stop events” by the shuttles, versus 2,302 the previous year.

When the San Francisco Examiner asked SFMTA if they had studied the correlation between evictions and shuttle stops, they said questions should be referred to the Planning Department.

Gina Simi, a spokeswoman for the Planning Department, said “This isn’t something that would fall under Planning’s jurisdiction or analysis.”

As previously reported by the Examiner, public documents show the SFMTA is working hand-in-hand with the Planning Department to exempt The City from conducting environmental impact reports, which may include measuring community displacement effects.

The SFMTA said the shuttles take cars off the roads and are an obvious boon to the environment.

“Before our pilot program, the buses were operating like it was the wild west,” said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose. “The pilot program is working to make the transportation network that much more efficient.”’

That’s a misdirection, said McElroy. The issue is not about whether the shuttles take cars off the road, she said, but whether they drive up rents and lead to evictions in the process.

Above is an interactive map by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, showcasing new commuter shuttle stop locations overlaid over the old ones. You can de-activate the layers for 2014 or 2014 & 2015 by using the pullout menu in the upper-right. Hover your mouse over a point to see the address of a shuttle stop.

Right now multibillion dollar tech companies pay $3.66 every time a bus pulls up to a stop to recoup the cost of the pilot program. But the mapping project wants Google and other companies to pay fees to mitigate the displacement of residents.

“That’s why the lawsuit is so important,” McElroy said. “People on the side of the SFMTA and city are saying there is no correlation between housing and transportation.”

Rose said the SFMTA introduced seven different stops to “increase the geographic diversity of the network or entice shuttles away from high traffic areas,” in neighborhoods like the Bayview and Inner Sunset.

But, he said, “None of those seven stops are currently used. That could suggest that a shuttle stop alone doesn’t impact population.”

Land value and new development booms hand-in-hand with transportation growth, Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards told the Examiner.

“As a kid I was impressed by south Florida, and how it was developed by Henry Flagler,” Richards said, referring to a railroad pioneer in the 1800s. “Wherever that railroad went through, it made the land worth more.”

One need look no further than San Francisco to see this, he noted.

The BART lines throughout the Mission contribute heavily to its density, he said. And the Mission, McElroy pointed out, which is ground zero for the Google Buses, is also ground zero for evictions in San Francisco.

This story has changed from its print edition.

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