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


  1. Comment by njudah

    Posted on May 7, 2013 at 5:54 am

    the SFCTA studied these buses and concluded that if they were abolished, most would switch to cars since Caltrain and BART don't reach most employers in Santa Clara County. However, they also suggested that there needs to be clearer boundaries between them and Muni/BART so they're not clogging public transit, which by charter is first.

    There was a suggestion to simply consolidate routes and just have private buses for anyone going south, but Apple/Google/Yahoo/Etc. don't want their employees sitting next to competitors. as if they didn't when on a Muni bus or Caltrain/BART train lol

  2. Comment by banane

    Posted on May 7, 2013 at 5:56 am

    Shuttles from Caltrain would reach all points- interested in the study, I guess. Also, better bike support on SF infrastructure would enable more end-to-end commuting to points south. Still, working in the south and living in SF is the real issue.

  3. Comment by njudah

    Posted on May 7, 2013 at 6:57 am

    true. do check it out though, it's interesting. Google is now one of the largest transit agencies in the bay area, apparently.

    personally, if I got a good enough paying job at Google/Apple/whatever that was for longer than a few months, I'd move. I've done long distance commutes before (SF-Lafayette was one) and for a few months it was tolerable, but I turned down a more long term job because the commute was annoying and I didn't feel like moving to Lafayette.

  4. Comment by Lori J Williams

    Posted on May 17, 2013 at 6:16 am

    re: having a long commute.
    I *can't* live in Mountain View or Cupertino near where I work. Neither can some of my coworkers. Why? It's too expensive. I can't afford a house that costs a million dollars. So I live in the east bay. And there are slim pickings on the companies that are located in the east bay.

    Also, why look elsewhere for a job when you think the one you have is awesome and more than makes up for the commute?

    BTW, I've taken public transportation regularly and it is *always* oversubscribed during commuting hours and I waited forever for wireless on BART (I won't even delve into connectivity issues). I think these companies are helping keep BART, CalTrain, and MUNI from being even more crowded and reducing strain on the infrastructure.

  5. Comment by Kelly Ellis

    Posted on May 17, 2013 at 6:40 am

    “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.”

    Not true. I take one of these buses to work, and I walk several blocks to the bus. I visit the cafe next to the bus stop every day, they know my face and know what I want without even ordering it. I've even had crushes on the bus, which you mentioned. :)

    Also, these buses existing saves the city money, it doesn't deprive the city of money. You'd rather have taxpayers footing the bill to cart thousands of people between SF and Silicon Valley? And honestly, if these buses didn't exist, people would just be driving (most of them can easily afford cars) rather than advocating for better public transit, congesting 101 even more badly than it already is and polluting the environment.

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