Google bus fees can't quell simmering outrage in SF

San Franciscans have a long, proud history of loudly protesting anything that bothers them. They dump free compost on the steps of City Hall because they don't like the contents. They line the streets to vent about the Keystone XL pipeline. They even protest events on the other side of the country, such as George Zimmerman's acquittal in Florida.

So imagine the bile produced when the issue hits much closer to home -- when some poor schlub at the bus stop on a freezing winter morning watches a Google (GOOG) employee board a luxury shuttle with WiFi for a quiet ride to the search giant's fancy headquarters in Mountain View.

Those are the same tech employees, by the way, who jacked up the rents near city bus lines. Who turned San Francisco's hippie enclaves into upscale, gentrified nerdfests. Who created members-only social clubs with $2,400 annual fees where people meet and boast about their talents.

These things don't go unnoticed. And now, the seemingly banal issue of employee shuttles have finally blown those doors of resentment wide open.

The city has seen months of protests by residents angry about the private employee shuttles crowding bus stops and streets. Lawmakers have taken notice, and the city's transportation agency voted unanimously Tuesday to charge corporate shuttles $1 per day per stop made. Each company will end up paying some $80,000 to $100,000 per year. 

Google is estimated to pay about $100,000 a year for shuttle stops, Salon reports. And how long does it take the company to generate that much in revenue? Less than a minute

It may be no surprise to hear that these fees aren't going over well with San Francisco. A dollar per day does not stop displacement, according to an activist group called Heart of the City. The group seems mostly concerned with city residents getting evicted to make room for well-heeled workers, and is holding protests and making the following demands

  • A moratorium on all no-fault evictions. The group claims that landlords evict long-time residents in order to lease units to tech employees at inflated rates.
  • Preservation of rent-controlled housing.
  • Tech companies must pay for their impact on housing and public infrastructure.
  • An investment in all people, not just tech employees.

The protests show no signs of slowing, and have spread to other cities in the area. Activists even targeted a Google employee's Berkeley, Calif., home Wednesday, blocking the driveway. But the protesters seemed more outraged by the employee's work on robotics and self-driving cars than by any contributions to gentrification he may have made.

A flyer reportedly distributed around the neighborhood gives this advice: "Have courage. Find others who feel the same way and block a tech bus. Steal from the techies you babysit for. Take down surveillance cameras. Go hard: The time is now."

  • Kim Peterson

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