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January 23, 2014

Transportation Compromises Made between San Francisco Citizens and Big Tech Firms

In every major U.S. city, there are the rich, the poor, and everyone in between. In San Francisco, there is a particular disparity in that big tech firms employ a host of wealthy brainiacs, almost all of whom have a messianic complex regarding themselves. They were nerds in high school and now they’re millionaires helping to fulfill Mark Zuckerberg (and the NSA)’s dream of ending privacy.

San Francisco officials have taken steps to help balance out the playing field on the city’s streets, though. Shuttle buses carrying employees of big tech firms, nicknamed “Google buses,” have been seen to clog up roads, not only delaying the travel of automobiles, but public transportation buses that everyone can ride. In a 6-0 vote, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors has set up an 18-month program that allows shuttle buses for big tech firms to legally pick up and drop off passengers at 200 stops throughout San Francisco, paying a $1 fee per day, adding up to $1.5 million, a meaningless cost that would only cover the city’s costs in running the shuttles.

Many in the tech industry are unhappy with this development. “No everyone at Google is a millionaire,” said Google employee Crystal Sholts. “Like a lot of people, I still have to pay my student loans.”

Sholts went on to say, “I do work on map data. And I saw your map data [in the presentation]—it’s Google Maps. So I need to get to work to help you.”

Sholts brings up an interesting point. Many industries and large universities can find themselves in positions of power, depending on the services that they offer and their assumed contributions to the economy, small and—in the case of creating something as universally used as Google Maps—quite large.

In the city of New Haven, Conn., there are similar shuttles that transport Yale faculty, students and staff from school buildings, back to their homes. While likely not on the scale of the 35,000 passengers on the “Google buses,” it’s nevertheless reflective of a bigger issue in such communities: institutions take up common space, make it their own, and then buy up the rest of available property. All the while, they’re telling the public how desperate they’d all be without them. 

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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