Cost for commuter shuttles using Muni stops may rise

mike koozmin/s.f. examiner file photoA preliminary analysis of voting patterns shows tech workers did not vote in large numbers during The City's last election cycle in November.

mike koozmin/s.f. examiner file photoA preliminary analysis of voting patterns shows tech workers did not vote in large numbers during The City's last election cycle in November.

The fee for Google buses and other commuter shuttles – seized on by anti-displacement activists as the symbol of San Francisco's income inequality – to use a selected network of Muni bus stops could increase from $1 to $3.55 per stop daily if transit agency board members approve the proposed change on Tuesday.

The increase to $3.55 per stop for fiscal year 2015 and then to $3.67 for the following fiscal year due to rising costs is proposed because the number of shuttle stop events has been found to be lower than the initial estimate.

When the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board approved the 18-month commuter shuttle pilot program in January, the best information at the time indicated 4,121 daily stops. The updated number is 2,449 stops.

SFMTA Program Manager Carli Paine said she thought the 4,121 figure was conservative and that the updated count would reflect more, not fewer shuttle stops per day. But she also came up with possible explanations for the decrease to 2,449.

“I think there may also have been shuttle providers that thought, 'I was using Muni zones but now that there is a fee associated, I'll figure out how to use my business elsewhere,'” Paine said. “There may be companies that may try their luck at not having a permit and not changing their behavior, so that's why having robust enforcement is important.”

California's Proposition 218, passed in 1996, prevents the SFMTA and other transit systems from implementing a fee that goes beyond cost recovery for administering a program. The $1.7 million price tag for the commuter shuttle pilot rose to $3.7 million. With fewer shuttle stop events, the SFMTA decreased administrative staffing and direct costs associated with data collection and reporting, but increased enforcement staffing. Ten parking control officers would work three-hour shifts in the morning and 10 would work the shifts in the evening.

Supervisor David Chiu, a longtime advocate of the pilot program, was pleased with the increase, noting he has given the transit agency feedback that $1 per stop per day was not adequate to cover programmatic costs.

“We could probably do better,” Chiu said about the increase. “But it's far better than where we are today.”

Mayor Ed Lee's spokeswoman Christine Falvey said the way The City was dealing with shuttles “wasn't sustainable.”

“We need a program that is going to minimize impacts to Muni, while maximizing the traffic and environmental benefits of these employer-provided shuttles,” she said in an e-mail. “This pilot is going to make sure we do that with better data keeping, better coordination and clearer and stepped up enforcement.”

The application process for commuter shuttle companies closed last week, and 11 providers submitted, Paine said. Approximately 130 Muni stops are now in the proposed network for the shuttles.

SFMTA board members will vote Tuesday on the fee increase for the pilot, which was scheduled to launch July 1 but was postponed to Aug. 1.

“We have shared it with shuttle providers and we met with them and they know it's happening,” Paine said of the fee change. “And I think they understand and agree that we need great enforcement.”

Protests and a lawsuit by housing advocates did not play a role in the proposed fee increase, she added.

Commuter Shuttle Fee TC Amendment

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