What "Google bus" really means

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EDITORIAL In recent years, "Google bus" has become a term that encompasses more than just the shuttles that one corporation uses to transport its workers from San Francisco down to the Silicon Valley. It has taken on a symbolic meaning representing the technology sector's desire to shield itself from the infrastructure, values, and responsibilities that most citizens choose to share.

These are the very things that motivate many of us to live here, finding that community spirit in such a beautiful, world-class city. More than just the great restaurants and bars, its vistas and artistic offerings, San Francisco represents an experiment in modern urbanism and cultural development.

It is this collision and collusion of disparate yet public-spirited cultures that gave birth to the region's great economic and social movements, from gay rights and environmentalism to groundbreaking academic research and the creation of the Internet economy.

The antithesis of this idea of creative collaboration is to consider San Francisco just 49 square miles of valuable real estate, to be used and developed as the highest bidder sees fit, as some tech titans seem to believe. It's ironic that an industry based on creating online communities would place so little value on engaging with its physical community.

The proposed $1 per bus stop use, and $50 per docking that new exclusive Google ferry is paying, is a privatization of public space that barely covers the city's costs. The tech industry should be doing much more just to counteract its negative impacts on the city's economy, let alone actually being good corporate citizens of this region.

A new report called for by the Mayor's Office says Muni needs a $10 billion investment over the next 15 years just to maintain current service levels. A big chunk of that should come from the wealthy corporations in our community through a downtown transit assessment district and higher fees on Silicon Valley companies that are using us as a bedroom community.

San Francisco writer Rebecca Solnit has been developing a critique of the Google bus since her initial shot last February in the London Review of Books, answering a subsequent techie/enviro criticism published in Grist with a Jan. 7 article in Guernica called "Resisting Monoculture."

"And thus come the well-paid engineers to San Francisco, and thus go the longtime activists, idealists, artists, teachers, plumbers, all the less-well-paid people," she writes, citing surveys that the buses allow Silicon Valley workers to live in San Francisco when they otherwise wouldn't.

That's the issue. The only thing green about Google buses are the piles of money their riders and their bosses are keeping from the city we all share. Segregated buses have never been a good idea, but if these companies insist on them, that should come with a higher price tag.

 

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