Pilot charging commuter buses to use Muni stops hits the streets

Lime-colored decals stating “Commuter Shuttle Pilot” and “Permitted Users Only” have been plastered to Muni bus shelters and tacked on to bus poles in San Francisco over the past week.

They signify green lights for permitted shuttle providers to use a network of bus stops in an 18-month pilot program launching today, but represent red flags for groups that have more blockades planned in protest of tech buses they see as a symbol of displacement in The City.

The journey to lay ground rules for the shuttles has been six years long. But the commuter shuttle program, which allows 11 permitted shuttle providers for Silicon Valley tech and intracity companies, to use 99 Muni stops for a fee, stands as a better solution than the Wild West environment that overran the city streets for years, said Program Manager Carli Paine, of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

“We know that there are likely to be some growing pains at first. Day one is not going to be as great as day 30,” she said. “And so we know it's going to take a little time to get everything working super smoothly.”

Transit agency board members on Jan. 21 approved the pilot, a $3.5 million project, on a $1 per stop per day fee structure, which was increased to $3.55 per stop for fiscal year 2014-15 and later to $3.67.

Getting the moving parts in place took a month longer than scheduled. The preparation for the pilot involved training all parking control officers and street inspectors on identifying violators, as well as 10 officers assigned specifically to commuter shuttle enforcement during the morning and evening peak hours.

The pilot is the first of its kind in the U.S., as no other city has a commuter shuttle program the scale of San Francisco's, Paine said.

Efforts to regulate commuter shuttles began in 2008 with a San Francisco County Transportation Authority board member's request for a study on their impacts, finalized in 2011. The SFMTA took on the controversial issue in 2012, gathering information and a policy framework and last July outlined the specifics of the pilot.

Still, implementing fees and enforcement measures aren't sufficient to mitigate the shuttles' impacts, said Erin McElroy, an organizer with Eviction-Free San Francisco, which has taken part in staging five tech shuttle protests since December.

“I think that people imagine that perhaps we're satisfied with the measures taken and that we won't continue to block them, so perhaps they will find it impactful when we do continue to blockade them,” she said of future protests. “I think when we first began blockading buses, it was most dramatic because it hadn't been really done before.”

On top of blockades, an environmental lawsuit by the Coalition for Fair, Legal and Environmental Transit, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Mission residents Sara Shortt and Alysabeth Alexander could make its way to court as early as a couple months.

“We did talk and were not able to settle,” said attorney Richard Drury of an early settlement meeting between the plaintiffs and The City last month.

Shuttle providers would not comment on the pilot launch.

Google said in an emailed statement: “We are excited to participate in the launch of the shuttle pilot program and look forward to continue working with the SFMTA and the City of San Francisco to refine the program.”

Agenda for SFMTA hearing on commuter shuttle stops:

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SFMTA Hearing (Text)

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