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New Lawsuit Takes Aim at Tech Shuttles

According to the Chronicle, a handful of advocacy and activist groups has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to put an end to San Francisco's shuttle program, which allows private shuttles, often from tech companies, to stop at city bus stops for a fee of about $1 per stop.

The pilot program, which was slated to begin this July, is estimated to generate $1.5 million in revenue for the city. The shuttle services themselves have been active for years already. But after a deluge of negative media attention casting the shuttles as a symbol of the tech boom and the housing crisis it has provoked, the city reached this agreement with the companies behind the shuttles.

The lawsuit alleges that the shuttle program violates California vehicle code by allowing private shuttles to park in red zones designated as bus stops. It also suggests that the program violates the state's environmental law by not doing a full assessment of the environmental impact of the program.

These may be valid points, or they may just be a futile attempt to further a political agenda. But to my mind, there's one primary hazard of these shuttles that trumps everything else.

It's simple, and it has to do with pedestrian safety. When private shuttles are parked at city bus stops, and then the city bus arrives on a tight schedule with nowhere to pull over, the city bus is forced to maneuver around the shuttle. Often, public buses are forced to stop in the middle of a crowded street, and passengers are left vulnerable to passing traffic. I see this happen all the time.

There's a reason why public bus stops exist, and that's because it's not safe for buses to stop in the middle of the street. It's not safe for the vehicles behind the buses that may or may not be expecting the bus to stop, and it's not safe for pedestrians who have to run into the middle of a busy street to hop on board. If there haven't already been pedestrian accidents because of this phenomenon, it's just a matter of time before there are. And this comes at a time when San Francisco is supposedly trying to institute "Vision Zero" to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in the next ten years.

Whatever your opinion of these private shuttles, I think we can all agree that pedestrian safety is of paramount importance here. And the safety of those riding city buses is just as important as that of private shuttle passengers. My biggest concern with this whole thing is not what these private shuttles symbolize in the context of San Francisco's changing cultural landscape. It's that city buses need to be able to use their bus stops. Otherwise, the shuttles are not technically sharing the bus stops, they're usurping them, and to the detriment of others.

Frankly, if Google and e Bay are charged $1 to use a stop-- that is something many of us would be willing to pay for that use when we need to drop something off or pick up some medication. That option is not available and we would walk away with a big ticket, in addition to creating a danger for city bus passengers.

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