Protesters block two buses, transporting workers to Facebook and Yahoo in Silicon Valley, at the corner of Valencia and 24th streets on Tuesday. (Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

SFMTA to consider changes to ‘Google bus’ program

The future of the “Google bus” program may no longer include the use of Muni stops — instead pointing the commuter shuttles toward hubs in the downtown area and elsewhere, according to legislation introduced Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors.

After two weeks of negotiations, seven supervisors supported a resolution calling on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors to approve the commuter shuttle program for one year, with key provisions resulting from a tentative deal reached
during talks this week between stakeholders.

The provisions would set the stage for modifying the program, possibly within six months.

Among the provisions is the analysis of disallowing commuter shuttles to use Muni bus stops citywide. Instead, the shuttles would use hubs, such as parking lots in the South of Market Area, and commuters could take public transit to those hubs. Another provision would require a review of the program within six months.

The transit agency is expected to take up the issue on Feb. 16, according to SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose. “We look forward to working with both boards, the community and other stakeholders to finalize an effective and responsible commuter shuttle plan,” Rose said.

If the brokered deal is ultimately agreed upon, the environmental appeal filed by SEIU 1021, a labor union with 6,000 members, would be dismissed by the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 23. The appeal has forced the negotiation.

A formal commitment from those involved in the negotiations — including technology companies Apple, Google, Facebook and Genentech, as well as the Bay Area Council — remains outstanding on some aspects and talks are expected to continue.

Those supporting the resolution included board President London Breed, along with supervisors David Campos, Jane Kim, Norman Yee, Aaron Peskin, John Avalos and Eric Mar.

“This is the board’s way of saying, ‘We want this program to continue,’” Campos said. “We know that if we required the full EIR that it would essentially kill the program. The objective here is how do we allow the program to continue but at the same time address some of the concerns that had been raised around traffic, congestion and also issues around environment, air quality and the issue of housing.”

Ariana Casanova, an SEIU 1021 member involved in the talks, said there were “several meetings” since Jan. 26, when the board postponed a vote on the appeal.

“It’s an evolving program. We’re still not fully evolved,” Casanova said. “This is a good step forward.”

The group who filed the appeal also has a lawsuit over the issue. It’s unclear if the groups will drop their lawsuit.

“We’re not going to comment on the lawsuit,” Casanova said.

The resolution also calls on the SFMTA to cap shuttles stops at the current number — 125 stops — commission a study on the nexus between commuter shuttles and displacement and commit to labor harmony.

Supervisor Scott Wiener said he supported the program as proposed by the transit agency, and said if the SFMTA “capitulates to what this board wants” it would result in a “the tearing down of the shuttle program over time by making it so hard for people to use.”

But Kim countered that it’s “a little early to criticize whether a hub system would dismantle this program or would discourage ridership.”

Kim said the current program fails to strike the right balance with those who complain about the shuttle impacts.

“We want to balance all the different inconveniences,” she said. “How can we say only one group’s inconveniences are more important than the other? Yes, it may be slightly more inconvenient to travel a little bit farther to be able to get on your commuter shuttle bus to get to work.”

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