Google bus protestors.
Did Mayor Ed Lee just end the Google Bus War? It sure looks as if a truce was just signed.
In a major policy change, tech firms will be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to use 200 of the city's bus stops for their private shuttles, which have drawn protests recently from political activists worried about gentrification and class inequality. The pilot program is expected to raise $1.5 million over 18 months (a figure 500 times smaller than the $1 billion demanded by demonstrators).
Under the plan, announced this afternoon by Lee in a press conference flanked by representatives of the tech companies, including representatives of Genentech and Google, as well Supervisors David Chiu and Scott Wiener, the firms would pay a daily fee to use the stops, based on the number of passengers that they ferry. That money would go to the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority for the upkeep of bus stops and other infrastructure. The city will also collect data on use of the stops. "We need to stop stereotyping and scapegoating and demonizing people who work in the tech sector," said Wiener.
Though the city has been working quietly on the deal for months, the timing of the announcement lends credence to the idea that the protestors are winning. The deal will not affect shuttles picking up passengers in other cities, including Oakland, where separate demonstrators had recently attacked buses. The policy will need the approval of the MTA's board of directors.
Protestors of the buses had demanded fines of $1 billion for the past two year's use of the bus stops. So they might be a bit underwhelmed by this deal. And the money incurred by the fees will do nothing to stop the rise in rents and evictions that is their true source of anger. But the deal might mollify some activists...for awhile. We have reached out to protest organizers for comment, and will update if we hear back from them.