Edward Mason is on the hunt, and his target is the elusive tech bus.
But Mason does not seek out his prey merely once. Instead, he catches the gleaming metal vehicles in the act of violating city rules on the “Commuter Shuttle Program,” repeatedly.
White haired, bespectacled and wiley, Mason stood at the corner of Castro and 24th streets on Wednesday awaiting a double-decker commuter shuttle bound with commuters to movie streaming company Netflix at its headquarters in Los Gatos.
Employees of many tech companies hire commuter buses between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, which weave in and out of city neighborhoods to pick up employees.
Tech workers defend the shuttles, and often say Caltrain is too full to use in a Silicon Valley commute. Tech workers frequently say in meetings that the shuttles take many cars off the road.
There are nearly 8,500 people taking a daily trip on private commuter shuttles, according to SFMTA, with more than 17,000 daily boardings.
This has drawn ire of neighbors, who frequently complain of the shuttles’ size and abnormally murky exhaust (lawsuits allege the shuttles are far less ecologically efficient than Muni buses, for instance).
Due to the buses’ height, exhaust fumes are often level with bedroom windows — especially troubling when the buses are idle, neighbors have said in public meetings.
Yet none of these neighbors are as vigilant as Mason, records show.
The Netflix-bound bus he hunted Wednesday has Texas license plates. This is against the rules of the program laid out by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which regulates shuttles in The City, Mason said.
Mason recited the license plate out loud, from memory. He had seen the bus on previous hunts, and was out to catch it yet again.
He drew his tools of the trade: a pocket-sized notebook, a pen, a miniature snapshot camera and a stopwatch.
This ritual is routine.
In fact, Mason is personally responsible for more than a quarter — 28 percent — of all enforcement against scofflaw commuter shuttles, according to the SFMTA.
A pilot program to monitor and regulate shuttle use began in August 2014, and that’s when Mason began his hunt. He’s been enormously effective.
In an October 2015 evaluation report of the entire commuter shuttle program, SFMTA staffers wrote, “One particularly active community member, a resident of Noe Valley, provided 69 of the 296 comments, or 23 percent of the total” that were used in the report.
Overall, Mason has provided information on commuter shuttles 282 times, according to the SFMTA.
Mason’s emails detail scores of infractions, including a shuttle idling in a narrow street it’s not allowed in, shuttles staging in Muni stops, shuttles blocking access to Muni buses, incorrect permit decals, incorrect license plates and more.
“The plan says buses are supposed to avoid steep and narrow streets,” he said, “but what else is there in San Francisco?”
Mason is retired from a private military defense logistics firm and previously served in the U.S. Navy.
Now 70, Mason has attended Save Muni meetings, numerous SFMTA meetings, and a litigant in the environmental lawsuit against the Commuter Shuttle Program, Sue Vaughan, counts him as a key ally.
“Imagine how many violations would be reported if we had more people like him,” Vaughan said.
Mason himself wasn’t entirely sure why he goes after scofflaw shuttle buses.
“Either it’s government not doing their job,” he said, or “I just feel it’s an inequity and the neighborhood is screwed.”
Later Wednesday morning, Mason walked near Edison Elementary, which is now a charter school. As shuttles pull up to pick up tech workers, they navigate a tricky milieu of running children and hurried double parking parents.
“You have to keep going. You have to complain, complain, complain until it gets fixed,” he said.
Mason pulled out his pocket watch. When the clock struck 7:12 a.m., it was clear his renegade Texas bus wasn’t coming.
Instead, a single-level black Corinthians bus pulled up. Mason strongly suspected it replaced the scofflaw Texas bus to shuttle Netflix employees, which he confirmed a day later.
That makes the Corinthians bus his new prey.
Against the rules, it idles for 10 minutes in a Muni stop meant for the 24-Divisadero bus. To Mason’s practiced eye, it’s akin to a gazelle turning over on its side for a lion.
“I can get him for staging. He’s supposed to pick up, actively load and depart,” Mason said.
A 24-Divisadero passed by, blocked from its bus stop by the stealthy black shuttle.
Mason pulled out his camera.