SFMTA Approves Higher Fees For Google, Tech Buses

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By Bay City News

Companies using San Francisco city bus stops to pick up and drop off passengers on commuter shuttles will have to pay more.

Tech workers board a shuttle bus in San Francisco. (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)
Tech workers board a shuttle bus in San Francisco. (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED) (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors voted to approve a fee increase from $1 per stop per day to $3.55 after fewer shuttle providers than expected signed up for an 18-month pilot program.

The new fee would take effect later this year and rise to $3.67 next year.

The pilot, which begins Aug. 1, allows companies operating shuttle buses -- seen by critics as a sign of inequality and housing displacement -- to use Muni bus stops for a fee in order to limit the impact on Muni service.

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The board also approved the first list of shared Muni stops, along with a handful of white zones. Shuttles will use the white zones at locations where Muni stops are too busy to handle private buses.

The $1 fee had to be revised after SFMTA officials realized the costs of the project were going to be more than the $1.6 million originally anticipated, and that the number of stops per day was fewer than expected -- only 2,449 were requested from shuttle providers, 40 percent less than anticipated, SFMTA officials said.

One objection raised at today's meeting was from the Mission Bay Transit Management Association, which operates small shuttles that run to and from the Mission Bay neighborhood, which they said was mandated by the city's redevelopment plan.

The shuttles run between the Caltrain station, the Powell Street BART station and the Mission Bay neighborhood and are intended as a first-and-last-stop solution for people who have few transit options for getting there, said Corinne Woods of the Mission Bay Citizens Advisory Committee.

The Mission Bay TMA is a nonprofit enterprise that charges a fee to property owners to operate the service. Mission Bay has seen a huge influx of new residents and businesses recently but still has few public transit options, "so the shuttle service is really critical," Woods said.

Several speakers argued the Mission Bay shuttles should not be charged the same fees as the large corporate buses operating regionally and that the proposed fee increase could cripple the shuttle service's operating budget. SFMTA board Chairman Tom Nolan said the speakers "raised a good point."

Carli Paine, an SFMTA transportation manager, said about 80 percent of shuttles using Muni stops take passengers to destinations within San Francisco, while the other 20 percent take passengers to destinations outside the city.

She said they looked into the possibility of a tiered pricing system for different kinds of shuttles, but that the San Francisco City Attorney's office advised them that was not permitted.

Critics argue the shuttles take up city resources and impact rents in San Francisco by encouraging highly paid workers to move there.

Sara Shortt, who is named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the program, said at today's meeting that the increased fees were "a step in the right direction." But she questioned whether they would be enough to cover enforcement costs. Shortt said those costs rise as the buses use parking spots or idle in the street rather than bus stops, to avoid paying the fees.

Emily Loper, a policy associate for the Bay Area Council praised today's decision, saying that the commuter shuttles are "innovative transportation" that take cars off the road.

"The benefits are immense," she said.