San Franciscans, at Least, Have a Nuanced View of the Google Bus

Where Google buses sleep. Credit: Eli Eminov on Flickr

To many observers, the “Google bus” — that shorthand description of the many private shuttles that run tech workers from San Francisco up and down Silicon Valley each day — has come to function as a starkly simple proxy for the sort of social tensions and economic challenges facing the City by the Bay.

But in the minds of San Franciscans, the Google bus concept is full of subtleties. More people in the city look favorably upon the commuter shuttles than don’t. The buses are thought to reduce congestion and encourage the use of environmentally friendly transportation. A super-majority of locals disagree with the notion that the shuttles are ruining San Francisco’s character, but more than a third agree that they are causing a growing gap between rich and poor.

Those, at least, are the takeaways from a new survey from the Bay Area Council, a business association that has long been involved in shaping the city’s mass transit, most recently working with transportation officials and the tech sector to legitimize commuter shuttles. The poll, conducted by EMC Research, could be seen as nudging respondents toward appreciating the shuttles’ merits — there are, for example, few questions about their effect on housing — but the results offer a peek inside how locals think about the Google bus.

The poll was a telephone survey of 500 likely San Francisco voters. It took place earlier this month and has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

The buses aren’t quite so disliked than they may otherwise be, perhaps, because the city is seen as having other challenges to wrestle with. While just under a third of those surveyed said that “limiting the growth of the technology sector” is an important or extremely important priority for San Francisco right now, a whopping 60 percent said that reducing traffic should be a focus.

Nearly half of those who responded agreed with the idea that the commuter shuttles are needed because current transportation options between San Francisco and Silicon Valley aren’t cutting it. Nearly three-quarters supported the idea of expanding tech workplaces in the city proper to reduce the need for commutes.

Another factor: Some 72 percent of respondents said that they have favorable feelings toward tech workers themselves.

In the end, more than two-thirds of those surveyed support the idea of allowing the commuter buses to pick up and drop off workers at a “limited number” of MUNI stops. Here’s one other interesting nugget: Support for allowing but regulating tech buses was actually higher among those associated with the tech sector in some way — 55 percent, compared to the 44 percent of other San Franciscans who support the continued operation of regulated buses. Presumably they’d like comfortable, efficient rides to work without all the stares and protests.

All charts by Next City. Data is from EMC research. Thanks to Paul Supawanich for a pointer to the research.

Nancy Scola is a Washington, DC-based journalist whose work tends to focus on the intersections of technology, politics, and public policy. Shortly after returning from Havana she started as a tech reporter at POLITICO.

Tags: infrastructurepublic transportationeconomic developmenttechnologyshared citybay areagooglesilicon valley