Monday, January 27, 2014

Google buses: Pro and con

Photo by Steve Rhodes

"Google buses" have become a symbol of the city's gentrification fueled by the growth in tech workers living in the city. It's a difficult issue for progressives to posture about, since clearly the buses take a lot of cars off the road. 

The MTA figures that 6,500 commuters use the "regional shuttles," those that take people to jobs outside the city in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. (Interesting to note that the number of Google buses is dwarfed by the number of "intra-SF" shuttles that carry 28,700 daily passengers within the city on shuttles provided by 18 city employers, page 5).  

That MTA study also found that 49% of those tech workers would drive to work alone if the shuttle wasn't available. Other benefits: 

39% of regional riders have forgone purchasing a car, and 20% have gotten rid of a car because they are able to use the shuttle....San Francisco-serving shuttles displace over 45 million vehicle miles traveled per year. San Francisco-serving shuttles reduce over 11,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year (this is the equivalent of the emissions from burning 25,581 barrels of oil) (page 6).

And they mean reduced traffic congestion and reduced parking demand in the city itself.

Hard to see a big downside to Google buses. Of course Jason Henderson tries, but his brief is unconvincing (Nickels and dimes or transit for our times?). Henderson thinks the buses create

a horrible mess...they are clunky and inappropriate for many neighborhood streets. While they do substitute for some car trips, an ad hoc private transit system does not reflect the kind of thoughtful regional planning needed to truly reduce car use in the Bay Area...we need to expand and regionalize the existing public bus systems.

Yes, the big buses---as opposed to the mini-van shuttles that operate in the city---aren't entirely without impact. I live in a unit at the back of the building, and I can still feel the vibrations of the electric #5 Muni line as it passes. But it still seems like a sensible trade-off to get all those potential cars off city streets and the highway. And, according to the MTA, those big buses "stop for less than 1 minute to load or unload passengers."

You can do all the "planning" you want, but all regional transit systems already have serious money issues. Henderson is the kind of progressive who prefers a big government, tax-funded solution even when, as here, there's already a low-impact private solution in place.

He then segues into a riff on Plan Bay Area with still another reference to Tea Party opposition, which is fundamental to his pseudo-intellectual analysis of transportation that requires a right-wing opposition to pro-bike, anti-car projects. If, as is demonstrably true, many liberals and progressives also have varying opinions on these issues, his elaborate ideological argument crumbles (see this, this, and this about Plan Bay Area for a contrary, non-Tea Party view).

(On "pointless inversion": Why the pretentious "Plan Bay Area" instead of just "Bay Area Plan"? Dwight Macdonald quotes a Wolcott Gibbs parody of Time Magazine's prose: "Backward ran sentences till reeled the mind.")

Thanks to SFGate for the link.

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At 6:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"solo driving is the dominant commute
mode in the Bay Area, and
this auto dependence imposes major costs to society including congestion, lost productivity, noise, pollution, and other negative externalities"

Stopped reading right there. You can pretty much assume this author is a hipster, a bicyclist, wears skinny jeans, and probably owns a smart phone.

At 12:32 AM, Anonymous Vince said...

On the other hand, "a study published last week by researchers at Berkeley...found that rents around the stops used by the Google buses were up to 20% higher than in otherwise comparable areas. They also found that 30-40% of tech workers would in fact move closer to their jobs if the bus service did not exist."

For the full article from The Guardian:

At 7:50 AM, Anonymous Gregski said...

The local opposition to Google buses is a real head-shaker. But I love how it serves to expose the class-hateful, adolescent passions that really motivate so many of the city's "progressives".

The Google bus phenomenon is in fact completely in congruence with the city's formally-enunciated, green policies such as "Transit First".

Be careful what you ask for, progressives. A bunch of clever, creative, successful San Franciscans and their businesses have taken it upon themselves to deliver exactly what you have SAID for years is your ideal end result: travelers out of cars and onto mass transit.

Instead of praise and thanks, progressives treat their deliverance with insults, opposition and now, new user fees. Transit First has been exposed as a lie. Their true motto should be Control First, Transit Second.

And for what it's worth, on my daily bicycle commute I've noticed that the Google bus drivers are consistently the most courteous and rule-abiding drivers on the streets. Unlike Muni bus divers they actually position their buses IN the bus-stop zones and out of traffic.

At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the study by Weinzimmer:

"A comprehensive approach must be taken under SB 375. Locating housing and services close to employment centers and transit is crucial. In addition, a suite of transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies is needed, including fast, reliable transit and safe and convenient walking and biking environments."

These are total lies, of course. The author is completely brainwashed by Plan Bay Area. As Rob has explained again and again, the proper course is to stop building new housing and hope that people will give up and stop moving to San Francisco.

At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Vince said...

"Be careful what you ask for, progressives..."

True enough. No one ever wanted to see San Francisco become a suburb of corporate high tech.

Well, maybe some...

At 3:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bunch of clever, creative, successful San Franciscans and their businesses have taken it upon themselves to deliver exactly what you have SAID for years is your ideal end result: travelers out of cars and onto mass transit.

Oh come on Greg - you don't consider the Googlers to be real San Franciscans.

At 8:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One great thing about San Francisco is that we get a two-fer in deals like this, both the protesters and the protestees in the same type of people, the Mission Hipster.

One rides on the Google bus, the other rides on the two-wheel "Google bus." Other than that they're about the same.

At 7:11 AM, Anonymous Gregski said...

"...don't consider the Googlers to be real San Franciscans"

Deciding who is worthy or unworthy of becoming a San Franciscan is nothing new here, as Willie Mays and Willie Brown will attest.

Thank you for reminding us of how exclusionary and bigoted "real" San Franciscans often are.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"As Rob has explained again and again, the proper course is to stop building new housing and hope that people will give up and stop moving to San Francisco."

Nope. What I've been saying "again and again" is that there's no free lunch on development and transportation. We need to be a lot more careful about how we develop. Big development projects---like Parkmerced, Treasure Island, the Market Octavia Plan, at the UC Extension, etc.---are bad planning and will have unintended consequences, especially on city traffic.

All the new city residents created by these projects will presumably not have cars, be riding a chronically under-funded Muni system, or, even more implausibly, will be riding bikes.

At 6:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" We need to be a lot more careful about how we develop. " Yep, which works out to the same thing. Stall all new development with litigation and hope people go away in the meantime.

At 3:21 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Where exactly is any "new development" being stalled by litigation?

At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, look into CEQA, it's a great tool for for stalling high density and transit oriented development. You can file a suit and delay construction for years. In the meantime, people just give up and stop moving to San Francisco, like magic!

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You're lecturing me about CEQA? I've been writing about it for years.

I understand the claim you're making is common to those who want to "reform" CEQA---like Walmart and the Bicycle Coalition---but please supply some specific examples of how that law has delayed housing development in San Francisco.


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