Google bus protests

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Google bus protests
Protesters in San Francisco obstruct a bus carrying tech workers on December 9th, 2013
Date December 2013 – February 2016
Location San Francisco, California, U.S.A.
Caused by Gentrification, Displacement (indirect) Private transportation services operating concomitant to municipal services (direct)
Methods Direct action, Occupation, Picketing, Demonstrations, Street protesters, Petitions
Resulted in

SFMTA Commuter Shuttle Program

since February 01, 2016
Parties to the civil conflict

San Francisco City of San Francisco:

Flag of Santa Clara County, California.png Silicon Valley companies:

Community activists:

Labor unions:

Arrested While in some cases protesters obstructing buses were moved by police, incidences of actual arrest were sparse. This is due to so-called "Graham factors", whereby the use of the power to arrest in cases of public protest is considered inexpedient. Officers instead are encouraged to de-escalate the situation using other more appropriate means.[1]

The Google bus protests were a series of community based activism held by residents of the San Francisco Bay Area beginning in late 2013, when the use of shuttle buses employed by Google and other local area tech companies became widely publicized. The buses are used to ferry employees from their homes in San Francisco and Oakland to corporate campuses in Silicon Valley, about 40 miles away.[2]

The term "Google bus" is pars pro toto, in that many other tech companies such as Apple, Facebook, Yahoo and Genentech also provide this kind of shuttle service, which normally remains the property of third-party transportation companies who also provide their staffing.[3] Protesters viewed the buses as symbols of gentrification and displacement in a city where rapid growth in the tech sector has led to increasing rent and housing prices.[4][5]

In reaction to the protests the City of San Francisco began provisional regulation of the shuttle services in August 2014, with some of the shuttle stops being closed or reassigned to other locations within the city.[6] A permanent solution, known as the Commuter Shuttle Program, took effect on February 01, 2016. Owing to these new regulations, by May 2017 the protests had largely abated.[7]



According to author Rosanne de Koning's analysis of the Google buses from a spatial justice viewpoint, it was growth in the technology sector of the economy which encouraged affluent tech workers to move to San Francisco, leading to gentrification in certain areas of the city,[4] the exclusive buses and suburban locations of tech companies served to isolate tech workers from other San Francisco residents, in a manner similar to gated communities. From the viewpoint of the employees using these buses, it was inadequate public transportation between San Francisco and Silicon Valley that was a leading factor in the initial acceptance by Silicon Valley employers of Google buses as viable alternatives.[8] Advocates for the buses pointed out that they ensured workers had a convenient way to commute to work while allowing for tech workers to live outside of the San Francisco area, populating different areas rather than congesting the city even further. Supporters pointed to the fact that by reducing the number of employees driving their own cars to work, the buses reduced approximately 11,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (or 25,581 barrels of oil) per year.[9][10] According to a 2012 report by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), there were approximately 6,500 tech commuters who used shuttle buses to take them from their respective homes to work locations outside the city.[11]

On the other hand, activist's concerns were centered over the buses illegal use of city bus stops, which caused delays in city bus service and forced city buses to stop in traffic lanes rather than at the curb, creating localized traffic congestion while diverting bicyclists from bike lanes into dangerous traffic,[12] with complaints rising over gentrification and evictions in local area housing occurring with growing frequency by late 2013, the fact that the private bus services were operating without paying fees to the local government only served to increase the likelihood of direct action being taken by city resident's.[4][13] According to Dustin O'Hara, the resulting protests functioned "as both a literal expression of privatized infrastructure, and a symbolic expression of economic inequality."[14] Historian Rebecca Solnit has encapsulated the Google bus phenomenon further:

"The buses roll up to San Francisco’s bus stops in the morning and evening, but they are unmarked, or nearly so, and not for the public. Most of them are gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us. Sometimes the Google Bus just seems like one face of Janus-headed capitalism, in that they contain the people too valuable even to use public transport or drive themselves."[15]

Direct action[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,[16] this sparked other groups in Oakland and Seattle to protest private tech commuter buses in their areas.[17][18][19] In a number of incidences, protestors blocked the buses from leaving the stops;[20] in one incident in Oakland a protestor broke a window of one bus[21] and slashed the tires of another.[22] On April Fools Day, protestors wearing colorful blue, yellow and red costumes blocked a Google bus again at the 24th and Valencia stop by holding an interpretive dance performance in front of it, preventing it from departing,[23] the dancing performers claimed to be holding Gmuni passes which allowed them to ride on the Google buses for free. Organizer Judith Hart noted that the protest was meant to focus attention on the fact that the buses were utilizing city bus stops for free.[23]


"Evict Google" mural at San Francisco's Clarion Alley

With the number of incidents growing, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors eventually stepped in, holding a three-hour meeting at City Hall in January of 2014. Angry residents, citing the two dollar fee San Franciscans had to pay to board city buses, demanded that the private bus services pay their share,[24] as a compromise, tech shuttles were offered a solution whereby they would be charged $1 per stop per day, regardless of how many workers got on or off — a limit imposed by state law which could only be changed by a citywide referendum.[21] In the meantime, SFMTA would commission a panel to begin gathering information on a long-term solution. By January 21, 2014, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency began imposing its preliminary fee for each public stop used by a private company, the fee was expected to raise $1.5 million a year.[22]

In February, Google donated $6.8 million to the transit agency to provide free public transit for low-income children in San Francisco.[25] 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%.[26] On March 31, 2014, tech-advocacy group, 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.[27] In 2015, SFMTA released its fact-finding report which found 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, increasing the amount of privately owned cars in the area.[3]

In late 2015, SFMTA's board of directors approved a year–long version of the Commuter Shuttle Program set in place by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.[3] Sporadic protesting continued through February 2016, as SFMTA approved an extension to the program allowing it to continue beyond March 31, 2017,[28] the extension carried tighter regulations of the shuttles, including limits to larger buses and final approval on all main roads to be used.[29] The extension made permanent the city's ability to collect a per-stop fee made when loading and unloading passengers,[28] which as of August 2017 stood at $7.31 per stop.[30]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ San Francisco Police Officers Association (April 6, 2016). "Use of Force Proposed General Order / Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST)" (PDF). SFPOA. p. 2. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ a b c Kelly, Heather (November 17, 2015). "Tech Buses to Become Permanent in San Francisco". CNNMoney. 
  4. ^ a b c De Kosnik, Abigail (2 November 2014). "Disrupting Technological Privilege: The 2013–14 San Francisco Google Bus Protests". Performance Research. 19 (6): 99–107. ISSN 1352-8165. doi:10.1080/13528165.2014.985117. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ Lee, Wendy (July 9, 2016). "More Tech Workers Driving Solo After SF Cuts Shuttle Stops". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 18 July 2017. 
  7. ^ Pender, Kathleen (May 22, 2017). "Will Occupy Silicon Valley be the sequel to Occupy Wall Street?". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 18 July 2017. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ "District 5 Diary: Google buses: pro and con". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  10. ^ "Public Transportation Reduces Greenhouse Gases and Conserves Energy" (PDF). 
  11. ^ Paine, Carli (September 4, 2012). "Private Shuttle Policy Development Memorandum" (PDF) (Press release). San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency SFMTA. Retrieved 2017-07-18. 
  12. ^ Streitfeld, David (January 21, 2014). "Activists Accuse Tech Community of Throwing San Francisco Under the Bus". The New York Times. NYTimes Co. 
  13. ^ Attoh, Kafui A. (20 March 2014). "What Type of Public Transit for What Type of Public?". New Labor Forum. 23 (2): 58–66. doi:10.1177/1095796014527919. 
  14. ^ O'Hara, Dustin (18 April 2014). "Social Mobility and the Google Bus Protests: Interventions for Affordable Housing". Critical Theory and Information Studies. Students of IS298C in UCLA's Department of Information Studies. 
  15. ^ Solnit, Rebecca (2014). "Diary". London Review of Books. 36 (4). 
  16. ^ "Google Bus Block" (Press release). San Francisco, CA: Heart of the City (direct action affinity group). December 9, 2013. Retrieved 2017-07-18. 
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ Miner, Casey (17 December 2013). "In A Divided San Francisco, Private Tech Buses Drive Tension". All Things Considered. National Public Radio (NPR). 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ Bhattacharjee, Riya (April 2, 2014). "Protesters Block, Vomit on Tech Commuter Buses". NBC Bay Area. 
  21. ^ a b Streitfeld, David; Wollan, Malia (31 January 2014). "Tech Rides Are Focus of Hostility in Bay Area". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 14, 2017. 
  22. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ a b "April Fool's Protesters Block Google Bus In San Francisco Ahead Of Key Vote". CBS SF Bay Area / 5KPIX. 1 April 2014. Archived from the original on 23 September 2017. Retrieved 23 September 2017. 
  24. ^ Elinson, Zusha (8 January 2014). "Google, Yahoo Worker Buses Prompt Backlash; San Francisco Will Start Regulating Shuttles That Take Employees to Silicon Valley". Wall Street Journal. 
  25. ^ 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. 
  26. ^ Alexandra Goldman (February 5, 2014). "Curbing the Google bus". Al Jazeera. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014. Retrieved April 3, 2014. 
  27. ^ "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. 
  28. ^ a b San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (23 February 2017). "Commuter Shuttle Program / Project Updates". SFMTA. 
  29. ^ "Protest Blocks Tech Buses as SF Supes Mull Program Extension". NBC Bay Area. February 9, 2016. 
  30. ^ San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (23 February 2017). "Commuter Shuttle Program / Project Details / Fees". SFMTA. 

Further reading[edit]