Google Trains

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Twelve years ago, I began making the 35-mile commute from San Francisco to a Silicon Valley powerhouse, not in a shiny white bus, but in a shiny silver bullet.  

My employer, Stanford University, picked up the tab for my Caltrain pass and provided free shuttle service from the Palo Alto station to my office. Though savings and convenience were my initial motivators, it was the rich sense of community that made this my preferred commuting mode.

It began with four of us sitting together and rotating bringing bagels, donuts and coffee on Friday mornings. Our ranks soon began swelling, as did the scope of our social activities, both on the train and off. We celebrated birthdays, coed bachelor parties, wedding and pregnancy announcements, promotions and farewells. Sometimes it would be in the mornings, sometimes over a beer on the way home, or sometimes later in the city. Many of those who flowed in and out of our group didn't work at Stanford, and as a result we learned about different industries and professions. When you added in spouses and significant others, the diversity took an exponential leap. The age range spanned decades, too.

And every April through October, legions of spirited orange and black-suited baseball fans joined the northbound masses on game days. It's funny how eager Giants fans are to tell you their reasons behind the team's ongoing torture.

Lately there has been a lot of backlash aimed at the white shuttle buses taking city dwellers to their Silicon Valley powerhouse employers. I often wonder if the forward-facing seats on those coaches offer the communal aspect and unexpected friendships we've developed through Caltrain.


I wonder why those tech companies never provided Caltrain passes and waiting shuttles at the Mountain View, Menlo Park, Sunnyvale and South San Francisco stations. As much as these ubiquitous buses lessen the numbers of cars on the roads, they are creating a parallel system that while being admittedly more convenient, benefits a select few. Ironically, passengers on the white buses are missing the bus on a rich opportunity to better know their neighbors outside of the campuses where they work. It's as though these shuttle bus occupants have been given keys to the executive washroom, which may be exclusive, uncrowded and more luxurious, but is cut off from the diverse larger population, in this case, one that makes the Bay Area so vibrant and interesting.

With a Perspective, I'm Arthur Patterson.