Google bus protests

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Protestors in San Francisco obstruct a bus carrying tech workers on December 9th, 2013

In late 2013, activists in the San Francisco Bay Area began protesting the use of shuttle buses by Google and other tech companies to ferry employees from their homes in San Francisco and Oakland to corporate campuses in Silicon Valley, about 40 miles away.[1] Protesters viewed the buses as symbols of gentrification and displacement in a city where the rapid growth of the tech sector had driven up housing prices.[2]

In reaction to the protests, the city of San Francisco began regulating shuttles more strictly in August 2014, and by 2016, more tech workers were driving to work alone.[3] By May 2017, the protests had largely died down.[4]

Background[edit]

The protests started on December 9, 2013 when activists from a group called "Heart of the City" blocked and entered a double-decker bus used by Google in San Francisco's Mission District, at 24th Street and Valencia Street.[5] This sparked other groups in Oakland and even Seattle to protest private tech commuter buses in their areas.[6][7] To many Google bus protestors, Google buses are part of the process of allowing for tech companies to enter San Francisco. [8] Activists also opposed the unpaid use of public bus stops by private companies, which transit officials said leads to delays and congestion.[9] In a number of incidents, protestors blocked the tech company's buses from leaving the stops. In one incident in Oakland a protestor broke a window of one bus[10] and slashed the tires of another.[11] And in another incident, someone impersonated a Google employee and only was later revealed to be a protest participant.[12][13][14]

On the other hand, Google buses ensure workers have a convenient way to commute to work everyday. They also allows for tech workers to live outside of the San Francisco area, populating different cities rather than congesting San Francisco. According to a 2012 report by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), [15] there are approximately 6,500 tech commuters who use shuttle buses such as the Google bus that take them to and from the city and their respective homes. According to a 2015 SFMTA report, about 47% of such workers in tech would drive to work in their own private car if they did not have these shuttles available to them, decreasing the amount of privately owned cars in the area.[16] Shuttle buses such as that of Google serving the San Francisco area reduce approximately 11,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (or 25,581 barrels of oil) per year.[17][18] In addition, Google buses decrease the amount of traffic congestion and increases the amount of parking spots available in the area.

One group involved in the bus protests in Oakland, called The Counterforce, also unfurled a banner outside the house of an engineer who works on Google's driverless car project and distributed leaflets accusing the engineer of "building an unconscionable world of surveillance, control and automation".[10]

On January 21, 2014, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency imposed a fee of $1 per day for each public stop used by a private company. This fee, which was expected to raise $1.5 million a year, was the largest the agency could impose without a vote from San Francisco residents.[11] In February, Google donated $6.8 million to the transit agency to provide free public transit for low-income children in San Francisco.[19]

On February 5, 2014, Alexandra Goldman with UC Berkeley City Planning released details of her research on the "shuttle effect" stating that rents rise up to 20% around Google bus stops. The average change was 5%.[20]

On March 31, 2014, tech-advocacy group sf.citi, led by Ron Conway, angel investor in Google and other tech companies, released a statement of support for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's pilot program.[21]

Rosanne de Koning has analyzed Google buses from a spatial justice viewpoint. In addition to causing gentrification by encouraging affluent tech workers to move to San Francisco, the exclusive buses and suburban locations of tech companies serve to isolate tech workers from other San Francisco residents, in a manner similar to gated communities. She identifies inadequate public transit between San Francisco and Silicon Valley as the cause of Google buses' development.[22]

While the term "Google buses" is widely used, many other tech companies such as Apple, Facebook and Yahoo provide this kind of shuttles, which are normally the property of third-party transportation companies that also provide the staffing.[16]

References[edit]

"Evict Google" mural at San Francisco's Clarion Alley
  1. ^ Sarah McBride (December 9, 2013). "Google bus blocked in San Francisco protest vs gentrification". Reuters. Archived from the original on December 9, 2013. Retrieved December 9, 2013. 
  2. ^ Gumbel, Andrew (January 25, 2014). "San Francisco's guerrilla protest at Google buses swells into revolt". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "More tech workers driving solo after SF cuts shuttle stops". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2017-05-24. 
  4. ^ "Will Occupy Silicon Valley be the sequel to Occupy Wall Street?". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2017-05-24. 
  5. ^ "Google Bus Block - Dec. 9". HEART OF THE CITY. Retrieved 2017-05-24. 
  6. ^ David Streitfeld (December 20, 2013). "Google Bus Vandalized During Protest". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 29, 2014. Retrieved December 20, 2013. 
  7. ^ Nick Wingfield (February 10, 2014). "Seattle Gets Its Own Tech Bus Protest". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 29, 2014. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Protests Block Tech Buses in San Francisco". Retrieved 27 October 2016. 
  9. ^ Streitfeld, David (January 21, 2014). "Activists Accuse Tech Community of Throwing San Francisco Under the Bus". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 12, 2014. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Steitfeld, David; Mallia Wollan (January 31, 2014). "Tech Rides Are Focus of Hostility in Bay Area". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 12, 2014. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Cabanatuan, Michael; Kurtis Alexander (January 21, 2014). "Google bus backlash: S.F. to impose fees on tech shuttles". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on March 12, 2014. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  12. ^ Heather Kelly (December 11, 2013). "Google bus stunt reveals tensions in San Francisco". CNN. Archived from the original on March 17, 2014. Retrieved March 17, 2014. 
  13. ^ Wiltz, Teresa (December 11, 2013). "The Google protest hoax: a sign of our cultural and economic angst". The Guardian. Archived from the original on March 17, 2014. Retrieved March 17, 2014. 
  14. ^ Statt, Nick (December 9, 2013). "Fake Google employee's fight with protesters some wish was true". CNET. Archived from the original on March 17, 2014. Retrieved March 17, 2014. 
  15. ^ "San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Memorandum" (PDF). https://www.sfmta.com/sites/default/files/projects/Private%20Shuttle%20memo_9_12.pdf.  External link in |website= (help)
  16. ^ a b Kelly, Heather. "Tech Buses to Become Permanent in San Francisco". 
  17. ^ "District 5 Diary: Google buses: pro and con". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  18. ^ "Public Transportation Reduces Greenhouse Gases and Conserves Energy" (PDF). 
  19. ^ Coté, John; Marisa Lagos (February 28, 2014). "Google says $6.8 million for youth Muni passes just a start". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on March 13, 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2014. 
  20. ^ Alexandra Goldman (February 5, 2014). "Curbing the Google bus". Al Jazeera. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014. Retrieved April 3, 2014. 
  21. ^ "Opposing sides rally troops for tech bus throw-down". San Francisco Bay Guardian. March 31, 2014. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014. Retrieved April 3, 2014. 
  22. ^ de Koning, Rosanne. "Google Bus and Spatial Justice: A Call for Greater Social Responsibility in Urban Governance". Digital Academic Repository of the University of Amsterdam. University of Amsterdam. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 

Further reading[edit]