Corporate Shuttle Crowds Out Muni Bus

Joe Eskenazi
Me first, Muni!
A bus rolling up to a bus stop is an event as mundane as pulling a rabbit out of a rabbit hutch. So it wasn't outwardly shocking when a dozen painfully cool people all of the same age group -- late 20s -- and outfitted in conspicuously tight and stylish clothing filed onto a bus this morning at Hayes and Steiner.

These folks weren't waiting for a Muni bus, however. A large, white-and-black corporate shuttle purred up to the stop and the cool folks ambled in. A 21-Hayes, however, was right on its tail. It strained the limits of its electrical cables to pass the shuttle and stopped, awkwardly, in the middle of the street. Muni passengers ran to make the open door. A disabled person would have been out of luck.

Asked how often he must make accommodations of this sort, the Muni driver curtly responded "Pretty goddamn often." He shook his head. "It's inconvenient for you and certainly inconvenient for me."

Per the city, at least 18 "intra-city shuttle services" pick up and drop off locals at more than 200 locations in San Francisco. If you or I idled our cars in a bus stop zone, we'd be facing a fine of at least $250. It does not appear those parking far larger vehicles and loading and unloading many more passengers are suffering the same penalties.

Paul Rose, a Muni spokesman, confirmed that the many corporate shuttles jaunting about town -- and, quite often, using Muni facilities and inconveniencing Muni passengers -- do not pay any sort of mitigation fee. And they're not really supposed to hog Muni's bus stops. "We've been working with private shuttles to utilize the bus zones when they're not occupied by Muni to avoid any service disruptions," he says. "We're trying to work with the companies to do less of this."

A public records request is under way, but it seems handing out tickets has not been one of the preferred methods of working with these companies. "Enforcement by either police or SFMTA Parking Control Officers has been limited," reads a 2011 study from the County Transportation Authority.

While Academy of Art buses have long been a ubiquitous sight, the number of shuttles has exploded in recent years. A 2008 Muni survey listed 30 shuttles operating within city limits (along with the aforementioned 18 "intra-city" shuttles heading to Mountain View, Atherton, etc.). While the city's studies claim shuttles interrupt Muni service relatively infrequently, that certainly wasn't the sentiment observed by the put-upon driver -- or many others. Per the 2011 study:

Field work also captured conflicts at Market near 8th Street and several instances of shuttles parking in red color curb zones along Market Street and in the South of Market area. These limited observations were not sufficient to reveal extensive conflicts at Muni bus zones. However ... the frequency of public comment and complaints regarding bus zone conflicts (particularly along the 24th Street and 30th Street corridors) and traffic impacts associated with shuttle stop activity may indicate a more problematic situation than these limited data imply.

One city department or another has been looking into corporate shuttles for years. Some manner of policy proposal is slated to be released rather soon, in fact. But it's hard to imagine the city cracking down on corporate shuttles -- they remove thousands of cars from the city's streets, for one thing. And they're operated by the large, powerful tech companies (or Academy of Art) which are as popular with the city's leadership class as tight clothing is with the shuttle passengers.

"They have a lotta clout in this city," notes Supervisor John Avalos. "They are keeping cars off the road. But it's like their own private transportation system."

Not "like." It is their own private transportation system. 

My Voice Nation Help

I understand that this is a problem, but where is all the outcry against drivers who regularly slow down Muni? It's easier to target the small group of "shuttle riders" rather than the very large constituency of "car drivers". But car drivers cause far more problems.


It really is a conundrum. These tech giants pay tons of tax dollars to the city, and help gentrify some pretty rough neighborhoods, but does that mean they should be given so much leeway in transit laws that they start hurting others? The city must, unfortunately, pick a side: either make room for the tech firms and give up space for others, or potentially alienate some very rich allies. 


Simple solution: Reduce Muni stop spacing to current standards (800-1300 feet apart in flat areas), then use the vacated spots for corporate shuttles.

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