Limits on commuter shuttles move forward

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board Tuesday voted to move ahead with revisions to a controversial commuter shuttle program introduced by the board of supervisors last week including a study of a possible move to a hub system.

The board Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution supporting the proposed changes, which include limiting the program to one year, requiring a 6-month review, capping the number of loading zones at 125, monitoring air quality and usage changes and studying options for the program including a possible “hub” system that would reduce the number of stops shuttles are allowed to use.

The board also voted to support commissioning a study into the connection between transportation, including commuter shuttles, and housing prices and displacement, a key demand of shuttle opponents.

The “tech shuttles,” which primarily carry workers from their homes in San Francisco to jobs with tech companies and other major employers on the Peninsula, have come under fire from residents concerned about their impact on neighborhood traffic and safety. In addition, housing advocates argue that they contribute to rising housing prices and displacement in the city.

A coalition of labor and housing advocates filed a lawsuit in May of 2014 seeking to force the city to conduct an environmental review of a pilot regulatory program that first allowed the shuttles to use Muni stops in return for a fee.

More recently, members of the same group filed an appeal of a permanent regulator program approved by the SFMTA board in November, again calling for further environmental analysis.

It was in response to that appeal that Supervisors David Campos, London Breed and Norman Yee to introduce a compromise proposal last week that would allow the program to continue with new limits in place.

The proposal, which includes a suggestion that a hub system be proposed, has met with opposition from Supervisor Scott Wiener, who Tuesday sent a letter to the SFMTA board arguing that it was designed to undermine the program and make the shuttles so hard to use that riders “simply choose other options or leave San Francisco.

Wiener said:

“Indeed, the ultimate goal of some of the shuttle opponents is to encourage technology workers to move out of San Francisco by making it as hard as possible for them to get to work.”

Several board members voiced strong support for the program and the shuttles. Board member Joel Ramos said the program takes private cars off the street and relieves congestion on Caltrain and other overtaxed Peninsula transit systems.

“They’re not there to privatize transit, they’re really only to augment the transit” on the Peninsula, Ramos said.

The proposed changes to the permanent commuter shuttle program are scheduled to come back before the board for a vote on March 1, according to SFMTA staff.