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By Paul Bendix

The Good, the Bad, and the Google Buses

Uploaded: Feb 16, 2014

The Google bus, Armistead Maupin recently wrote, is the Emperor's carriage. The author of Tales of the City, which chronicled 1980s San Francisco bohemian life, was describing public anger over private transit.

Commuter buses for employees of big Silicon Valley companies stop in City neighborhoods. These unmarked coaches whisk riders off to work in our area, nonstop and free of charge – and many long-term San Francisco residents are not pleased.

The issue, whatever it may be, is remote from our suburban experience. It's also pretty far from Maupin, who now lives in Santa Fe. So what is he worrying about?

Maupin has his finger on the pulse of the times. Corporate buses, which are eminently green and reduce commuting's carbon footprint, should please everyone, right?

No. The answer is that they don't. Some San Francisco neighborhoods have even organized small protests against high-tech company buses.

Okay, but why should we suburbanites care?

Because there is no ignoring the nation's widening economic inequality. Many San Franciscans see 'elite' high-tech professionals moving into neighborhoods, driving property values up -- and driving locals out.

Never mind that this 'elite' is environmentally conscious and tends to be, if anything, socially idealistic. No, it doesn't make a lot of sense.

But neither does today's political divide. The Americans most hurt by privatizing and deregulating are, you guessed it, most in favor of privatizing and deregulating. And so San Franciscans who normally support green transportation...are opposing this form of green transportation.

Or, more precisely, they fear being squeezed out of their own neighborhoods by people who come and go in anonymous coaches. In Menlo Park we may not think of ourselves as the high-tech elite, but there's no escaping today's economic schism and political climate.

So, what is the answer to 'Google buses' in San Francisco?

Mark them, one City official confided, with free advertising for local nonprofits. That means bus posters for the likes of San Francisco's Glide Health Services, ODC Dance Downtown and so on.

This may not solve any problems. But there is no problem to solve. There is a cultural gap to bridge.

Silicon Valley companies may be used to thinking out of the box. But they're in a political box now. Unintended, unfairly. But welcome to hard much of the country. They are interesting times, of course. And we all need to rise to their challenge.