Protesters blocked a Google bus from leaving a MUNI bus stop in the Mission Monday, accusing Google and other tech companies of illegally using the city’s bus stops.
Wearing neon yellow safety vests, 30 members of a group calling itself the San Francisco Displacement and Neighborhood Impact Agency chanted, “San Francisco, not for sale!”
For some, the private shuttle buses that take employees to work in Silicon Valley, have become a symbol for gentrification and the new tech boom. Last spring, a small group of people beat a Google bus piñata during a protest at 16th and Mission streets.
Deepa Varma, a 33-year-old tenant attorney and a spokesperson for the San Francisco Displacement and Neighborhood Impact Agency, said, “These private tech buses have become a symbol of the displacement in the city and this two-tiered system between the longtime residents and middle-and-working class people and the new tech elite….creating a situation that is just not affordable for the people who are here, whether it’s businesses or residents.”
Early on Monday morning, protesters gathered in an alley, waiting for the 9:15 a.m. Google bus to arrive at a bus stop in front of Bethel Christian Church at 24th and Valencia streets.
As the bus pulled up to the stop and workers boarded, the demonstrators silently surrounded the bus, setting up barricades and forming a human chain around the bus.
Demonstrators handed out flyers to bus passengers and onlookers asserting that state and city law prohibit vehicles other than Muni to stop at bus zones, and that the current fine for “illegal usage of a bus zone,” is $271.
In a telephone interview, Paul Rose, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), said “The agency is proposing a set of rules that will promote safety, reduce impacts on MUNI and other uses and make enforcement clearer.” So far, enforcement of the SFMTA’s rules regarding private use of bus stops “is largely complaint-based.”
“Thirty-five thousand daily boarding within SF between other cities does provide a viable transportation option,” Rose said. “We’re working now to address concerns so our policies catch up with this new mode of transportation.”
According to San Francisco’s traffic code, a vehicle such as a shuttle bus that is picking up or dropping off passengers is allowed to idle for no more than five minutes.
According to protesters, tech companies owe an estimated $1 billion in back fines for using city bus stops from 2011 to 2013 alone.
Varma said they targeted a Google bus for their initial action because “along these private bus routes, rents are skyrocketing. There is clearly a major problem.” City leaders are acting like they have no idea what to do, Varma added.
Varma said that the group includes a wide range of San Francisco housing activists and displaced artists. They formed the group approximately one month ago.
During Monday’s demonstration, Google workers sat on the bus for roughly 45 minutes, some taking pictures of the protest and others working on their laptops. At one point some disembarked the bus to find alternative ways to get to work. None of the workers would grant an interview to Mission Local, and one worker said, “I have nothing to say.”
About 20 minutes into the demonstration, a man who appeared to have been on the bus got off and started shouting at the protesters. This, however, was an impromptu part of the action. Organizer Leslie Dreyer later said the man’s participation was not part of the group’s original demonstration plans.
After almost an hour, two San Francisco police officers ordered protesters to move their picket line to the sidewalk and allow the bus to depart. They complied.
“This is our first action, but this will not be the last,” Varma said.