Why Muni won’t earn a dime off the tech buses

SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin at a Monday press conference
Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Every day mammoth private buses squeeze into San Francisco public bus stops, and every day they contribute to the delay of countless Muni buses. Riders walk around the Google, Apple and Genentech luxury rides and into the street to board their grimy, underfunded public transit system. 

Now finally, the mayor has announced the near-approaching implementation of a pilot program to permit and regulate the tech industry’s private coaches. If approved by a vote from the SFMTA Board of Directors on Jan. 21, the pilot will begin. The only catch is, though they’ll charge those companies for the cost of implementing the program, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency won't make any money off of the tech shuttles.

The chronically underfunded Muni won’t get a lift from Google. Yesterday (Mon/6) we finally got an explanation as to why.

On the 8th floor of the SFMTA offices, the transit agency’s director Ed Reiskin told reporters that his hands were tied by California Proposition 218, which limits what new revenue municipalities can raise without voter approval.

“Only the voters of San Francisco can enact a tax that generates excess revenue,” he said. 

“This isn’t new,” Reiskin said, but he’s only half right. Though Prop. 218 was passed in 1996, this is the first time anyone at the MTA has touted it as a reason not to profit off of the tech shuttles.

We even asked Mayor Ed Lee this question just a month ago, and got a two-minute response that did not once include Prop. 218

Part of this might have to do with the nebulous quality of Prop. 218. An implementation guide from the California Budget Analyst office puts it this way: “Proposition 218's requirements span a large spectrum, including local initiatives, water standby charges, legal standards of proof, election procedures, and the calculation and use of sewer assessment revenues. Although the measure is quite detailed in many respects, some important provisions are not completely clear.”

The waters of Proposition 218 are murky: is the government charging for the use of Muni stops a fee or a tax? In that grey area lies the answer on whether the city truly can’t charge tech buses to help fix Muni, or if this is just political cover for a government who doesn’t want to piss off tech.

Tellingly, that’s pretty much what Reiskin said.

“There’s a lot of benefit these services (buses) are bringing to San Francisco,” Reiskin told us after the press conference. “We wanted to resolve the conflicts without killing the benefit.”

“I imagine if we sat down with them and said ‘we wanna start taxing you guys’ they’d say ‘screw it, we don’t want to do the shuttles.’”

The 18-month pilot will recoup an estimated $1.5 million, the estimated cost of the project, according to the SFMTA. The project would give approval for use of 200 Muni stops by private shutle providers, out of 2,500 Muni stops in the system. We’ve reached out to California’s budget analyst office to dig into Proposition 218. 



would you prefer that these companies just get rid of the shuttles all together?
more traffic, less parking, more pollution, but hot damn! we really stuck it to "tech!"
is that the goal here?

Posted by guestD on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 11:34 am

Without the buses many of the techie workers would move to the south bay.

The tech buses are one of the main methods used to help gentrify SF and evict local residents from their apartments. The protestors who have been targeting the buses are on the right path: until companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo and others remove their buses from the streets of SF, the class warfare against Mayor Lee and the tech companies should be encouraged.

The tech companies and Mayor Lee want to see the massive eviction of non-techies from SF. It's reasonable people want to fight back to protect their homes and families.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 12:44 pm

They could just take Caltrain to the south bay. I doubt many people would move, they would just figure out an alternative.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

They would just drive and take up more parking.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

Anonymous Google employee here. I'd probably caltrain/bike to the office till I could find a job in San Francisco or the nearby peninsula, and then quit Google.

Google doesn't have shuttles as a method to attack San Francisco, they have shuttles because otherwise they would have a hard time recruiting/maintaining employees who want to live in a densely populated urban area.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 6:45 pm

If Ted had done his job over the past decade instead of hunkering down, then tenants would be in a much stronger position now. But since Ted failed at that, all he can do is play San Franciscan off against one another and scare the shit out of people.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 2:21 pm

which really was irrelevant to the broader tenants issue anyway.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 2:50 pm

when I got a new job in Marin, I didn't move there.

Posted by guestD on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

Luckily, most of us prefer freedom.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 3:00 pm

"Without the buses many of the techie workers would move to the south bay. "

Which is where they should be living to begin with....intelligent people live close to where they work.

I don't think the young elitist techies would ride Caltrain. Isn't their ass too good, too self-entitled, too-elitist, and above reproach to make contact with a non-Luxury coach seat? I think so. And they might have to see homeless people along the route. Couldn't have that! No, it's clear that those darkened windows on those double-decker techie shuttles serve an intended purpose of preventing the elitist techies from seeing the real world.

Posted by Nonpartisan Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 7:14 pm

and bizarre generalizations.

Posted by local on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 8:09 pm

Why do you want to tell people where to live?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 6:55 am

One group of wage slaves makes marginally more money than another group of wage slaves, so you want to pit them against each other?

That is not Class Warfare, that is playing into the hands of the elite.

Why not attack the Capitalists, the real root of the problem here? I guess they are too hard a target for you, you prefer to pick on soft pasty programmers that are unlikely to fight back.

Go back and re-read Das Kapital, if you ever read it in the first place.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 10:04 pm

Good gravy.

In the last 100 years Communism has killed millions.

You may have noticed?

Posted by local on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 11:22 pm

I lie the 6M starved to death each year at the feet of capitalism. That adds up pretty fast.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 12:53 am

In general capitalism kills through neglect.

Over the last 100 years single party state communism has gone out of it's way to kill ethnic minorities, religious minorities, political enemies, and just for something to pass the time.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 8:19 am

...that they were killed by neglect, and capitalism didn't "set out" to do it. Of course even that's not really true. 3 million Vietnamese didn't die of "neglect." They died from bullets and napalm. And lest we forget, Nazi Germany was, in fact, capitalist.

But leaving that aside, why must we choose one or the other? Why not democratic socialism, which to my knowledge hasn't killed much of anybody?

Posted by Greg on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 8:41 am

The government spends 40% more than it collects and, generally, gives that to the poor through welfare and entitlement programs.

It's been a long time since the US was truly a Randian state.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 10:41 am

of both democracy, and socialism.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

The US was never a Randian state, from its basis on slavery to the give aways of land to the railroads to land grand colleges of the 19th century, the government has provided the legal framework for a controlled economy.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

"democracy" part. And we tax the rich and give large amounts of that revenue to the poor. So there's the socialist part.

The US essentially became a socialist state between WW1 (the Fed, income tax) and WW2 (the new deal and massive deficit spending).

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 2:45 pm

tax revenue flows upwards (mostly to your "national security" friends and their offshoots).

Do you have any understanding of the definition of "socialism" or "means of production"?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 3:00 pm

consume it. In that context, the Federal Defense budget is a consumer although they are supplied by private contractors like Boeing, Lockheed, GD, Honeywell, Northrop etc.

Far and away the biggest part of the budget is the set of entitlement programs: SSI, MediCare and MediCaid. All are a form of welfare even though SSI and Medicare are notionally structured as insurance contracts.

Socialism does not have to mean public ownership of the means of production. A government can control private entities through laws and taxes without actually owning them. I'd describe most European nations as socialist, along with Canada. The US is more arguable but we are getting there by virtue of our seeming inability to cut federal spending.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 3:15 pm

the middle/upper middle classes to the rich, despite the persistent propaganda decrying "entitlements".

It must be nice to define words however you want.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

The richest 2% pay about half of all taxes. The bottom third pay almost none.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 3:56 pm
Posted by marcos on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 7:33 pm

In fact, the top 5% of taxpayers pay about 85% of all taxes.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 2:45 pm

I've lived in SF and commuted to the South Bay for 10 years and I did so in my own car (and sometimes on Caltrain, if the company I worked for was near a stop) before there were any shuttles. The truth is, the shuttles are a nice bonus and they make my life a little easier but, if they ceased to exist tomorrow, I'd happily get in my car again. Those repeating this lame mantra are so wrong, it's absurd.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

SF still gets tax revenues from people who work outside of SF.

The objections here are little more than petty envy dressed up as spiteful resentment.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 2:47 pm

how 'bout if they did NOT use public bus stops, which are for the public at large

Posted by SF'er on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 2:28 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 2:50 pm

Some members of the public should not use a public bus stop because the bus stop is reserved for the public?

Posted by local on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 7:36 pm

So it seems by your logic, private cars should be allowed to park themselves there too, because private car owners are members of the public.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 7:50 pm

Same with car parking spaces and bus stops

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 6:56 am

A payment for the use of public bus stops. Same as paying to go to the zoo or the arboretum.

Are you going to tell me that the city only covers its expenses when it rents out GG Park for Outside Lands or the Civic Center area for a Salesforce party etc.?

The city can price the fee so that the companies still run the shuttles and contribute to improvements (or reduce their impacts) to our public transit infrastructure. Or let the companies stop the shuttles and force the commuters to drive or take public transit like the rest of us. No way the real estate interests who run the city will allow that, however.

The way this is set up, MTA management will probably lose money on the deal as they use the funds for consultants or kick them back to tech companies for studies, etc., etc.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 11:58 am

They are issued at cost. The idea is not to extort a profit.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 2:51 pm

that if it wasn't for the buses, most of these workers would not live in SF; the commute is too long for most people if they have to drive, so they would live closer to work in the Silicon Valley. Thus, I say ban the buses out right. Save San Francisco!

Posted by Darren R. on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 11:59 am

I agree!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 12:33 pm

The commute was worse but I still didn't want to live down there

Why should I?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 2:51 pm

The buses are one important tool used by Mayor Lee, Scott Wiener, Bevan Dufty and other government officials to help gentrify SF and displace current SF families.

Many of the hundreds of evictions that have occurred over the past years would not have happened if not for the tech buses. Many of the OMI and TIC evictions are from tech workers from Apple, Google, Yahoo, Oracle, Facebook, and other large technology companies. Thousands more evictions are expected to follow so long as the tech buses continue to pick-up and deliver highly paid tech workers to the streets of SF.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

these companies open up shop in SF instead? Cuz if you don't like the number of "techies" that are here now, your mind would be blown by the number of them after that happened.

and how do you know how highly paid these tech workers are. if they were rolling in so much cash, you think they'd be caught dead on a bus? These appear to be hard working, young people trying to make it in SF, just like everyone else. Heaven forbid they are able to find a decent paying job.

and lets face it, without tech and the peripheral jobs they create in SF, the unemployment rate in this City would be much worse than it is now, and everyone would be bitching that Ed Lee isn't doing anything to help the economy. damned if you do, damned if you don't. So tiresome.

Posted by guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 2:48 pm

In our SF-based firm, half of my software colleagues are rent controlled tenants, most of whom have lived in the City for several years. Gullickson wages class warfare against working tenants at his and all tenants' peril. Rich people don't have to go to work every day. I think they don't give a damn if they fail anymore because they realize that there are no consequences for failure.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 7:51 pm

can afford to pay their own way?

Rent control should be means tested.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 6:57 am

Good luck on convincing tech workers or any workers to forgo subsidy given those lavished on corporations!

Posted by marcos on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 7:45 am

But there would be no need to convince a group of people that they should forsake a subsidy if the rest of the population see it as unjust.

Millionaires should not be getting rent control subsidies.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 7:55 am

any more than preventing fraud and usury is a subsidy.

It is, however, a subsidy, to cut out special breaks for a favored corporation, while everyone else has to pick up the slack in terms of more taxes and/or fewer services.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 8:46 am

If you are arguing for a flat tax, Greg, then I would support that.

The US rate of corporate tax is the highest in the West. Reducing that burden makes sense.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 10:39 am

In general, if people have to go to work every day writing software, they're not millionaires, Ted Gullickson's misconceptions notwithstanding. Nice to see you agreeing with Ted as to the economic status of those who work for tech firms.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 9:28 am

Most of them probably bought a home, you'd like to think.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 10:37 am

If they are millionaires, they're probably not going to be scraping the bottom of the housing barrel by evicting people, they'll probably buy something less stressful and nicer.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 10:50 am

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