The rancor between the so-called Google Buses and the people living in the neighborhoods that they run through has reached chaotic levels recently. However, no one has ever been able to state clearly and eloquently what the actual problem is. Kevin Roose, however, does just that:
Part of what makes the debate about Google buses — as all tech shuttles are collectively known here, no matter whose they are — so fierce is that there seems to be a fundamental disagreement about what’s at stake. Tech employees see the Wi-Fi-equipped shuttles as nothing more than a boring corporate perk — “a thing on wheels that gets us to work,” as one Googler put it at the hearing. As my year-ago ride on a Facebook shuttle confirmed, these aren’t party buses in the least; most tech workers sleep or answer e-mails on a silent hourlong commute to the peninsula. And it’s hard to argue with Google buses on the merits. They reduce emissions, cut down drastically on the number of individual cars being driven in San Francisco, and make the city a more livable place for people who would otherwise be stuck in San Jose. They do produce some first-order consequences that aren’t great (clogged bus stops, frequent delays for public-transport riders) but nothing that couldn’t be ironed out with better data and planning.
Of course, the Google bus wars have never really been about the Google buses.
For concerned locals, the shuttles symbolize their collective fears about the rise of the tech sector — that rents are spiking, that long-time residents are being pushed out by coddled 22-year-olds with Stanford BAs and venture funding, that a great American city with a rich countercultural history is turning into a staid bedroom community for Silicon Valley. It’s hard for people to put these feelings into words, and even harder to get them heard in front of cameras and policymakers.
(Emphasis mine). And not only that, he cuts through all the emotional hysteria and clearly defines ways to move forward:
The best solution to the Google bus problem was something close to the one the SFMTA adopted. But the larger issues remain untouched. For the vehicles to lose their symbolic villain status and become part of the normal fabric of urban life, the tech industry will need to stop seeming like a threat to working-class existence. That isn’t likely to happen, given that the drivers of the current housing crisis in San Francisco — astronomically high demand coupled with low supply, poor zoning, and a labyrinthine development process — are so hard to change. And I wouldn’t hold my breath hoping for a make-nice community outreach project from Google or Facebook as long as their buses are being stopped in the streets. Instead, with each passing protest, tech workers will circle the wagons, and the locals will become angrier.
The pilot program approved yesterday won’t fix the social problems created by intense, localized wealth generation. But neither will any other SFMTA program. What’s needed, instead, is a massive citywide reconciliation effort – perhaps starting with a series of town hall meetings – that can serve as a venue for tech workers to hear, in moral terms, why their proliferation is worrying residents of San Francisco, and for anxious locals to better understand, in utilitarian terms, that the city’s development rules and the basic laws of supply and demand are doing far more to cause displacement than the Google buses. Then, with calmer ground established, the two groups could begin to sort through some of the policy specifics.
Barring another 2000-style crash, the tech industry isn’t going away. For the Google bus wars to end, the nerds and the locals are going to have to start speaking each other’s languages, before someone gets hurt.
(Emphasis once again my own). San Francisco is way too wonderful and beautiful a city to let it degrade into either a super-gentrified monoculture or constant class warfare. Let’s figure out how address these issues and move forward.