Frisco Commuting

By Tim Grzesiakowski

The San Francisco Bay Area offers residents many options for commuting. Due to geography and topography, some alternatives include heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, passenger ferries, multiple transit authorities, networks of private buses and various ridesharing options. Several recent developments will be impacting Bay Area commuters, and their daily commutes.

In December 2013, activists in San Francisco and Oakland blocked buses taking tech employees to their jobs in Silicon Valley. Protesters at the West Oakland BART Station smashed the windows of one bus.

The private buses, which use public bus stops for passenger boarding, have become a symbol of a growing class war. Many people believe that wealthy tech workers living in San Francisco are driving up housing costs and commercial rents, as well as forcing out middle class families. They also believe that these buses block scheduled Muni services, forcing those passengers into the street to board their buses.

Here at Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), we’ve written several blog posts about the private bus networks in the Bay Area and Chicago area. Often, these services are provided by an employer to transport their employees from a rail station to the worksite. Many of the large technology companies in Silicon Valley, such as Google, Apple and Genentech, provide these buses for their employees making reverse commutes from San Francisco, or suburb to suburb commutes from other parts of the Bay Area. In many cases, they use over-the-road coaches, provide Wi-Fi so employees can work during their commute, and include other services not offered by the local transit authorities.

On Tuesday, Jan. 21, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) approved an 18-month pilot program between the MTA, City of San Francisco and private shuttle operators. The pilot will require private shuttle operators to secure a city permit to use Muni bus stops in San Francisco. The fee will be $1 per day per stop. Permits will be for specified Muni stops, and private shuttles will not be allowed to use Muni’s busiest stops. 200 of Muni’s 2,500 bus stops will be approved for shuttle bus use.

In a related situation, Google, which operates an extensive network of these buses to its Mountain View, Calif. headquarters, began ferry service in January from the Port of San Francisco to the Port of Redwood City, 26 miles away. In Redwood City, Google employees transfer to a shuttle bus to complete their journey to work.

Google is chartering 83-foot Wi-Fi equipped catamarans that can carry up to 150 passengers. The ferry service makes two morning and two evening trips, takes about 47 minutes, and is free to employees.

Will ferry service be a long-term program? It remains to be seen. A Google spokesperson said “We certainly don’t want to cause any inconvenience to San Francisco residents and we’re trying alternative ways to get Googlers to work.” So far none of Google’s competitors have announced similar plans for ferry service.

It will be interesting to see if Google continues with the ferry service as a long term commuting solution.

Photo Credit: San Francisco Commuting/shutterstock