The trial “Google Bus” program will stay in place for a few more weeks, receiving an extension from The City’s transit agency.
The Commuter Shuttle Program, as it’s known, was supposed to go into effect Feb. 1. Now it rests in regulatory limbo because the Board of Supervisors was scheduled last week to vote on an appeal under the California Environmental Quality Act.
The appeal, filed by SEIU 1021 and others, argues the shuttle program should have a full environmental review.
But the board postponed the ongoing debate until Feb. 9. Until that appeal is voted on by the board, shuttle enforcement will continue as usual, the San Francisco Examiner learned in a memo from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
Ed Reiskin, director of transportation for the SFMTA, issued an “enforcement directive” to the agency on Friday to continue “current enforcement” of commuter shuttles, more commonly known as “Google Buses.”
The enforcement can only continue until March 18, Reiskin wrote, which SFMTA planners said was the extent of an extension of the program issued by the Planning Department.
The SFMTA Board of Directors on Tuesday was briefed on the future of the commuter shuttle program.
Many commuter shuttles operate inside The City, but the shuttles subject to the most criticism ferry tech workers from San Francisco to Silicon Valley daily.
Hank Wilson, program manager of the Commuter Shuttle Program, explained to the SFMTA board that depending on the Board of Supervisors’ decision — whether to uphold the environmental appeal — the SFMTA may be facing many unknowns.
If the supervisors deny the environmental appeal, Wilson said, the SFMTA board would need to vote on a revised version of the Commuter Shuttle Program on Feb. 16. If the board upholds the environmental appeal, things get trickier.
One board director, Cheryl Brinkman, asked, “Do we lose the authority to regulate at all? What happens in that situation?”
“That’s my main concern,” Wilson answered, noting the SFMTA may not be able to regulate the buses at all.
“If the program is not approved, we’ll be back to pre-pilot days,” he said. “We won’t collect any fees, we won’t collect any data, and shuttles will be free to stop wherever they want.”
The SFMTA previously voiced such a concern at the Board of Supervisors, fearing the program would end on Feb. 1. The Planning Department issued an extension for the pilot program, seemingly contradicting that fear.
Wilson, as well as Tom Maguire, an SFMTA planner, said the extension may not be granted again.
Patrick Monette-Shaw, a frequent public meeting attendee, presented the board with photos of Muni buses blocked by gleaming white “Google Buses.” The buses forced Muni riders to board in the street.
Brinkman replied, “I absolutely understand the riding public’s frustration when their Muni bus is stopped in the street.”
Brinkman asked whether conflicts between Muni buses and commuter shuttles decrease because of the new regulation.
Wilson said “yes,” a 35 percent reduction in conflicts, thanks to the program.