Will Google be driven to react to bus protests

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Offline imam.hasan

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Will Google be driven to react to bus protests
« on: December 10, 2014, 04:46:47 PM »


 
  Sara Shortt (left) from the Housing Rights committee of San Francisco and activist Erin McElroy (right) block a Facebook bus heading to Menlo Park on 8th at Market streets in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, January 22, 2014. The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency votes on an 18-month pilot plan allowing Google buses to use designated Muni bus stops to pick up and drop off tech commuters to Silicon Valley. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle

    Sara Shortt (left) from the Housing Rights committee of San Francisco and activist Erin McElroy (right) block a Facebook bus heading to Menlo Park on 8th at Market streets in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, January 22, 2014. The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency votes on an 18-month pilot plan allowing Google buses to use designated Muni bus stops to pick up and drop off tech commuters to Silicon Valley.
    Protestors block a Facebook bus heading to Menlo Park on 8th at Market streets in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, January 22, 2014. The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency votes on an 18-month pilot plan allowing Google buses to use designated Muni bus stops to pick up and drop off tech commuters to Silicon Valley.
    A Google shuttle bus arrives at 18th and Dolores streets to pick-up employees in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, June 14, 2013.
    Protesters surround and block a Mountain View-bound Google employee commuter bus Monday morning at a Muni bus stop at 24th and Valencia streets in San Francisco’s Mission District. The demonstration delayed the bus and its riders for about half an hour while protesters held up signs and chanted against private buses using Muni buses to pick up employees.

Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle
Image 1 of 5
Sara Shortt (left) from the Housing Rights committee of San Francisco and activist Erin McElroy (right) block a Facebook bus heading to Menlo Park on 8th at Market streets in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, January 22, 2014. The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency votes on an 18-month pilot plan allowing Google buses to use designated Muni bus stops to pick up and drop off tech commuters to Silicon Valley.
Image 1 of 5
Sara Shortt (left) from the Housing Rights committee of San Francisco and activist Erin McElroy (right) block a Facebook bus heading to Menlo Park on 8th at Market streets in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, January 22, 2014. The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency votes on an 18-month pilot plan allowing Google buses to use designated Muni bus stops to pick up and drop off tech commuters to Silicon Valley.

A reporter from the BBC called me this week. He wanted to talk about the Google buses.

So if there was any doubt about how the shuttle-bus fuss has taken off, that makes it official. It's definitely trending. Combine it with media fascination about everybody's favorite city and the threat of class warfare, and San Francisco has caught the world's attention.

Now what to do with it? At this point it's been well established that the controversy is not entirely about the buses. It's a matter of affordable housing and the cost of living in the city. But those issues will take years to resolve.

It is important to make some headway now. And that means Google needs to step up. Granted, Google is getting a bit of a raw deal. It's not the only company using corporate shuttles to ferry workers from San Francisco to the Peninsula and Silicon Valley. The target could easily be the Apple buses (Apple carts?). But for now, Google has the biggest image problem.

There's a very real safety concern here. Protesters blocking buses had been annoying but mostly harmless. Then last month demonstrators in Oakland broke a bus window. There was also a "blockade" of a Google employee's house in Berkeley by members of the lunatic fringe.

Media accounts of what happened vary, but the story spread quickly through the Google campus. Employees who have faced catcalls and boos are concerned about their safety and the safety of their families. Imagine, they must think, if protesters came to my house.

So far, Google's response has been right out of the mega-tech-company playbook - stay stoic and silent. But recently there are indications that Google has begun to recognize that it needs to get out in front of this story, rather than letting the opposition control the message.

That's good. And to help them along the way, here are some suggestions:

First, acknowledge that you hear the critics and that, although you disagree with the methods, admit they might be making some good points. A public statement laying out measures to address the concerns would be a good start.

For instance, complaints about the big buses, which are more than 10 feet wide, on narrow San Francisco streets have merit. It would be worthwhile for all the shuttle bus operators to take a hard look at their routes and potential bottlenecks. It may be that employees would have to walk an extra block or two to board a bus that is staying on wide thoroughfares. They can tough it out.

Mapping and evaluating the routes is part of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's 18-month pilot program for the buses, which was recently approved by the MTA's board of directors. But it would be good PR for the firms to volunteer to make changes on their own.

And speaking of volunteering, there were howls of protest when the MTA board announced that it would charge $1 per stop for the buses during the pilot. That's nothing, protesters said. The board replied that state law allows it to charge only enough to offset the cost of the program.

Fine. But there's no rule against Google and the other tech companies voluntarily paying more - Google already contributes to Bay Area charities, to the tune of $60 million since 2011. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu is talking about getting shuttle operators to dramatically increase the rates they pay.

"I am encouraging our companies to step up with a more significant voluntary contribution," Chiu said. "It would be an important gesture to show they are invested" in the city.

Overall, it wouldn't be that expensive. Estimates were that the $1 fee might cost $100,000 a year per operator. Make it $5 a stop and stipulate that the extra dollars should go to improving transit and pedestrian safety.

Critics might say that would just be an attempt to buy public goodwill. But at this point I'd think they'd take goodwill any way they can get it.

Source:sfgate.com