Commuter shuttles made permanent in SF

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors unanimously approved a permanent commuter shuttle program Tuesday that will allow The City to oversee the private shuttles increasingly traversing San Francisco streets.

SFMTA principal analyst Hank Willson said Tuesday that the program will allow the public to have recourse when problems with the shuttles occur.

An 18-month pilot program that regulated the employer-provided buses bringing workers to and from Silicon Valley tech companies and San Francisco was set to expire on Jan. 31, 2016.

If no ongoing program was put in place prior to the pilot program’s expiration, the shuttles would still have been able to legally operate on San Francisco’s streets but their activities would not have been regulated, according to the SFMTA.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement Tuesday applauding the SFMTA’s decision to continue the program into the future.

Lee said the commuter shuttle program not only removes thousands of cars from San Francisco’s streets during busy commute hours, but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions and decreases disruption to public transportation:

“Even as we build thousands of new housing units and improve our public transportation infrastructure for the future, commuter shuttles will continue to be a vital provider within our City’s transportation infrastructure and they’re here to stay.”

Jim Wunderman, president and chief executive officer of the Bay Area Council, a non-profit organization that represents Bay Area businesses, and many of the companies that pay for commuter shuttles and the contractors that operate them, applauded the SFMTA’s approval as well.

Wunderman said:

“Commuter shuttles remove 2 million single passenger car trips from our congested roads and highways every year, along with a significant amount of carbon emissions. And they help supplement a public transit system that is bursting at the seams.”

He said the commuter shuttles program has become a model for regions around the world that are searching for solutions to growing traffic congestion.

The permanent SFMTA program will aim to keep buses off smaller residential streets and maintain a clean fleet.

The program also requires operators to certify that they are in labor harmony. The operators will have to submit a plan that outlines efforts to maintain consistent and efficient shuttle service in the event of disruptions, such as labor disputes.

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener stood before the board prior to Tuesday’s vote and urged them to approve the program.

Wiener insisted that the program will allow The City to oversee shuttle providers, make sure impacts to the neighborhood are addressed and reduced, and that the labor harmony provisions will help drivers earn a living wage and benefits:

“Some of these drivers are earning poverty wages.”

Wiener also rejected the notion that the buses themselves are causing gentrification. He said that is not reflected by the data collected from shuttle riders.

He said of San Francisco’s 8,500 daily shuttle riders, less than 5 percent of them would move outside The City if the buses were not allowed to operate.

He said half of riders reported that they would simply drive to the Peninsula or South Bay by themselves, which would lead to increased traffic congestion and carbon emissions.

SFMTA Board of Directors Chair Tom Nolan has said the pilot program showed improved order and safety on city streets:

“Commuter shuttles get thousands of people to work every day without a car. We must do everything we can as a city to improve the flow of traffic, reduce congestion and cut pollution while improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

Prior to the 2014 launch of the Commuter Shuttle Pilot Program, many of the shuttles were apparently loading and unloading passengers in Muni bus zones, along random curbs or simply in the street, leading to traffic, transit and safety hazards, according to the SFMTA.