San Francisco’s Commuter Shuttle Program, which was made permanent in November, is facing a lawsuit that could require The City to revisit its environmental studies. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

Critics file legal challenge of S.F. ‘Google Bus’ program

The City’s new, permanent program to legalize “Google Buses” just netted its first legal challenge.

An environmental appeal of the Commuter Shuttle Program, as The City formally calls its legalization of tech shuttles, was filed to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last Thursday.

A similar challenge was issued over the pilot version of the program previously, which then escalated into a lawsuit that’s still ongoing.

The lawsuit and the new environmental appeal, separately, may compel San Francisco to study various environmental effects of the buses it did not study — not necessarily to stop the program altogether.

One difference between the challenge of the pilot and the new challenge of the permanent program is the makeup of the Board of Supervisors.

The board rejected the environmental appeal last time around, with Supervisor Scott Wiener vocally opposing any further study. Now, the newest member of the board, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, may swing the board in a new direction on the matter of the shuttles.

“They’ve been too big for our streets, there are pollution concerns, and impacts to the public transportation system,” Peskin told the San Francisco Examiner. “I have an open mind, but like many San Franciscans I have concerns about them driving on our city streets.”

Though some of the shuttles are smaller and operated by local hospitals and schools, the hundreds of large double-decker buses run by tech companies like Apple, Genentech, Electronic Arts, Yahoo and, yes, Google are the focus of much ire in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors voted to make the pilot program permanent in November, formalizing San Francisco’s commuter shuttles. The SFMTA in the past has said commuter shuttles existed in a “wild wild west” state, before The City crafted regulations, and would have run with or without rules.

The newfound permanency of the program opened it up to new legal challenges.

The Coalition for Fair, Legal and Environmental Transit, SEIU Local 1021, and citizens Sue Vaughan and Bob Planthold filed the challenge through their attorney, Rebecca Davis. The group alleges the shuttles are low-tech, using diesel fuel which pollutes the air around city neighbors, and that they illegally use public bus stops in conflict with the California Vehicle Code.

Tech workers will pay more to live near the shuttle stops, the group alleges, which in turn spikes nearby rents, spurring evictions and displacement of long-term San Franciscans.

The SFMTA was unable to comment before press time.

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