Transportation

Shuttle envy

The Google shuttle. Image by David Gartner, from Flickr.

The Google shuttle. Image by David Gartner, from Flickr.

The Guardian casts its eyes on the Bay Area and sees Silicon Valley’s fleet of hundreds of private buses plying the streets of San Francisco. The paper turns up a few stereotypical SF residents who bash a shuttle-shaped piñata and complain about the shuttle service being “separate but not equal” or “segmentation”. I’m not sure how you could really be peeved about the Silicon Valley shuttles – why should it be Google’s job to improve transit services for the general public in San Francisco?

The shuttles are clearly performing a useful service. An equivalent public transit trip, say from the Inner Sunset to Apple’s campus, would involve SF Muni, Caltrain, and VTA bus, and take you almost 2.5 hours, assuming no delays. People that live in SF and work in Silicon Valley can afford to pay for cars and parking. If the 2.5-hour public transit trip is the only alternative, they’re all going to hop in their cars and cruise down the 280. The shuttles are mass (if not public) transit, fulfilling a need not met by existing public transit services.

As I noted on Twitter, the shuttle hate is symbolic: SF kvetchers don’t have a problem with the shuttles, they have a problem with the people on the shuttles. If we were talking about other private transit services that meet market demand not being served by public transit, like the gypsy cabs and dollar cabs of NYC, no one would be complaining. There are real issues from the tech boom, like housing affordability and SF becoming a Millennial playground, but they are not the fault of the shuttles.

When you consider anger towards the shuttles in light of poor quality service on SF Muni, what we have is Nietzsche’s psychology of human resentment: we have crappy transit service. Therefore, it is only fair that software engineers have crappy transit service as well. It is a lot easier, in terms of both physical and mental effort, to cast yourself as a victim. But as SF Weekly has reported, SF spends more money per capita than just about any city in the country, SF Muni’s rolling stock is in terrible condition, and its budget is routinely raided to shore up other departments. SF is a liberal city that supposedly cares a lot about transit. It is not a poor city. If SF Muni buses and trains are crowded and unreliable, the blame lies with SF voters for doing nothing about it, not with Silicon Valley tech companies providing service to their employees.

The industry responds, accurately, that the shuttles are beneficial, and that for their part, employees are paying high taxes without getting great services in return. To which I say, you’re all welcome to come to Los Angeles. Our weather is even better, and thanks to our polycentric nature, employees who want city life will have more than one option located 45 miles away from your HQ. Also, we don’t have a problem with rich people’s transportation habits or conspicuous consumption; it’s actually kind of one of our things, as long as it’s not Biebs terrorizing people in his Ferrari. Don’t take my word for it; dial up Elon Musk and ask him – it’s working out for him other than traffic on the 405 making him want to spend his personal money on freeway improvements. Just sayin’.

The post originally appeared on Let’s Go LA.

Written by Let’s Go LA

Let’s Go LA writes a blog, dedicated to the advancement of Greater Los Angeles, under the same name. The author hopes their writing can make some small contribution towards greater prosperity and quality of life in the region.

2 comments to Shuttle envy

  • Thomas

    I overall agree with the article’s point, but why the hell would I ever want to live in LA?

  • Tim

    I completely understand why Google or Apple engineers would want to ride private buses. No way I’d take out my laptop and try to get work done on MUNI. It’s just not an environment where you can work, and that’s why Google is providing these services. They know that providing a shuttle equals more time spent working. If their engineers had to either drive or take MUNI they wouldn’t get that time.

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