Those Anonymous Buses of Digital Workers, and Commutes

You’ve seen them- large, ghost-like double-decker buses, careening around the narrow streets, in the Mission, or North Beach, picking up nicely dressed young people and carting them off to hinterlands of Silicon Valley. Is it a sign of exclusivity, of belonging, being part of a bigger machine, the companies that can afford their own bus lines. They can ride in Wi-Fi comfort, above the rabble and pee-smell seats of Muni. With only a dreaded coworker to avoid instead of some crazy homeless guy.

The problems with private busses- including Academy of Art, Electronic Arts, Yahoo- is that they are creating these overlays of stops and routes on top of our city grid. In a way, it’s similar to the days before our public bus system, when a dozen or so streetcar companies competed for patrons. But we’re not allowed on these- only the workers of Google, Facebook, etc. I also wonder how much the city is being deprived of potential investment in transit. If all these workers took public transportation, or bitched and complained and lobbied for more direct and faster routes, would it clean them up? The separation of their commute- they only see their coworkers, no neighbors, no kids along the block, no ex-boyfriend or recent crush, no barista from your favorite cafe- makes it this cocoon of privilege and in a way, isolation.

I’ve always thought it’s ridiculous to have long commutes. Either live near where you work, or vice-versa. And, this is from someone who has had very seriously long commutes, for years. In a way, I’ve learned- it’s not worth the cost to your life. You’re neglecting your life in one place- it doesn’t stop, it just keeps going without you. And, in reality the place where you’re commuting to has a nice potential life of its own. Mountain View, Cupertino, Palo Alto- all very nice places to live. So why do they do it?

“There’s no other job like this one,” or “I own a house, I don’t want to move,” or “SF is so much fun, I don’t want to leave.” Still spending up to 3 hrs a day (or more?) traveling by bus on the roads. My first job in SF, I took Muni to Caltrain, and walked to work. My latest commute was biking, to a ferry, then biking again to work. It was beautiful though, and the journey was most of reason the work seemed so fun. Now I’m walking through downtown, which I love. The rest of the ride is forgetable but it’s only 20 minutes, then a quick 10 minute walk. Public transit commuting means you meet your neighbors. And in that, you are part of the fabric of your community. Being in your car, or in your work’s bus, you are not meeting your neighbors, you are barely, by a thin thread, part of the fabric.

Picture I took walking to work this week. I also buy hats, it seems, on my walk home. So far: 2.

Why do we work far from where we live? Is the job so irreplaceable, or are we lazy and don’t want to hunt down something more convenient, and in the end, gives us more time in our lives?

More reading:
(inspired this post:) Google Bus Pinata Smashed During Anti-Gentrification Rally
Why we’re invisible to Google bus riders

San Franciscans feel resentful about the technology industry’s lack of civic and community engagement, and the Google bus is our daily reminder.

Beyond the Secret Corporate Shuttle Stop
Silicon Valley’s Exclusive Shuttles
Another Silicon Valley Perk- Free Shuttle Service

Rodenbeck says he thinks the locations are secret because the companies are “sensitive to this idea that they are funding a change in the infrastructure in San Francisco without it being regulated.”

Video: Class War Pending As Google Bus Driver Threatens Irritated Cyclist
StreetsBlog: Private Bus Routes and Silicon Valley’s Outmoded Office Model