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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