Google Shuttle Privilege, Broken Down in Handy Map Form

The folks over at Stamen Design, famous for their Crimespotting and Cabspotting maps, created this handy transit map explaining the approximate routes all those pesky 'gentrifying' (according to some stencil outside of Ritual, at least) wifi-equiped white buses full of tech workers take:

Fundamental shifts are underway in the relationship between San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Historically, workers have lived in residential suburbs while commuting to work in the city. For Silicon Valley, however, the situation is reversed: many of the largest technology companies are based in suburbs, but look to recruit younger knowledge workers who are more likely to dwell in the city.

…Several Stamen staff live on Google shuttle routes, so we see those shuttles every day. They're ubiquitous in San Francisco, but the scale and shape of the network is invisible.

We decided to try some dedicated observation. We sat 18th & Dolores one morning, and counted shuttles. We counted a new shuttle every five minutes or so; several different companies, high frequency. We also researched online sources like Foursquare to look for shuttle movements, and a 2011 San Francisco city report helped fill in gaps and establish basic routes.

As you can imagine, this map isn't completely accurate.  They wanted to imagine what this all would look like if the private shuttles were an actual transit system, so they simplified things a bit.  But, at the end of the day, this alt transit network carries 35% of the Caltrain load every day—and the Mission is well represented.

Now, if someone would mash this map with average rents, things could get really interesting.


Comments (26)

Really great work by Stamen on this (no surprise, they are awesome). A lot more work went into this than is readily apparent, so you should definitely check out the post on their site.

These shuttles don’t really bother me. They’re just filling the huge gap left by municipal public transit. But it’s interesting to aggregate the data like this.

It’s not a municipal transit gap; these shuttles are all crossing city lines. The gap is in where tech companies put their offices and where their employees actually want to live.

Absolutely. But I’d still argue that the complexity required to travel across three counties in the bay area on public transit is a “gap” of sorts.

Well said! They could have put these offices in San Francisco and used existing buildings but they don’t care about the environment and want to build all new. Look at Apple Computer’s designs for their stores. They use huge pieces of glass that they boast required them to build their own custom manufacturing equipment to make and that let in so much heat they have to air condition like crazy, all to make them self one of the most photographed places in Paris or London. It would be better for the environment if they would just put up a giant billboard.

Yeah the only buses that are clearly labeled were left off. Pretty weak of Stamen Design.

South San Francisco is not Silicon Valley.


The buses make this tech boom significantly different from the last one. Workers used to car pool or even rent another apartment down south. Now it’s so easy. Of course, real estate prices, as well as commercial and residential rents are rapidly increasing all along these bus corridors.

I don’t remember any carpooling. I’ve been working in the Santa Clara Valley since 1992. I do remember endless construction projects on 101 and 2+ hour commutes to and from Mountain View.

Life is better now. For the most part 101 is done. There are still some widening and ramp corrections going on. The ramp lights are active, Caltrain is running express trains, the buses are carrying lots of folks, and ubiquitous networking has made your physical presence every single day less important.

Would somebody pass me the spikestrips, thanks.

would you prefer that these people be driving? I wouldn’t, because they’d still be staring at their phones, killing people at every intersection….

The shuttles are clearly better than having all of them drive. What would be better however, is if the companies involved actually bothered to locate themselves in a place that didn’t require a massive, redundant, private transit network to ship their employees in. Or if they lobbied their municipalities to get an actual functioning transit system in place that could also be useful to people who don’t work for someplace big enough to finance its own transit network.

Imagine how SFMTA would look if all those companies pooled the money they spend on private buses and spent it on improving Muni. They clearly have figured out how to make urban transit work in our city, why are they hoarding that success?

The problem might be that their solution is to only allow wealthy 20- and 30-somethings to use the system.

Also, improving Muni alone doesn’t help them unless they can work it so that the SFMTA gets jurisdiction to take over transit all the way down the peninsula. The source of the problem is tech companies building offices in places notorious for not having good public transit access while employing a demographic who don’t want to live in a place that lacks (among other things) good public transit access.

ack! imagine there’s no heaven, its easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky. I can’t imagine a functioning Muni, it’s beyond my capacity for thought.

If only the krauts had won the trains would be running on time and the streets swept of scum.

“Bothered.” That’s hilarious. You really have no idea why companies start in silicon valley or why they stay there once they get big, do you?

Google’s Mountain View campus has something on the order of 20,000 workers, spread across 11 major buildings and at least another 10 minor ones. Where, precisely, in San Francisco would you recommend that they build (or buy and convert) an equivalent number of offices, and how long, in decades, do you think it would take for the approvals process and inevitable lawsuits to wind down the the point where they could actually begin construction? And how much do you think it would cost them to do that if they were bidding against Apple, Facebook and Genentech for the same space?

And even if all of that somehow worked out, the busses would still exist, since the other 50% of Google/Apple/etc’s employees who lived in the southbay would still need to get to work, and Caltrain would still be a sad, sick joke.

I head that sometimes it is possible for people who all work for the same company to not all be under the same roof.

Hunter’s Point Naval Station.


Um… every once in a while I have to go down to 1 Infinite Loop for work. Do you have to show ID or anything to get on these busses?

The real estate/rents +/-2-3 blocks from these lines is 5-20% more expensive thanks not being near a GOOGLE BUS STOP

This isn’t public transit; it is a corporate buspool. (Think car- or vanpool on steroids.)

During the Cold War, almost all of the aerospace companies in So.Cal had several buspool routes serving them. Some buspools were sponsored by the employers, others were third party companies trying to make a profit on fares, and a few were simply groups of employees chartering a bus for the ride to work. In many cases, buses were driven by aerospace company employees, saving on labor costs.

Now, are the Google, Facebook, etc. shuttles a good idea? Well, they do help with traffic congestion, and probably attract people who would not ordinarily use public transit. (Riding Muni to the Caltrain station, taking Caltrain, then transferring to a local bus or company shuttle from the train station might not appeal to some people.) Bus stop space is at a premium in San Francisco (the So.Cal buspools mainly operated out of parking lots and the like, rather than sharing stops with city buses.)

Should the companies pay Muni to provide this service? They could, but the routes would require that Muni send drivers and buses out of San Francisco for varying periods of time, during which they would not be available to serve riders within San Francisco. Muni’s labor costs are undoubtedly higher than that of the private companies Google, etc. contracts with. Also, federal law strongly discourages public transit companies from providing services that are useful to only a certain class of rider (e.g. employees of a specific company, school children, etc.) and not the general public.

Should these tech companies move to San Francisco, where their employees could use Muni to get to work? That would be a business decision contingent on many factors, such as availability of space (square footage), cost of (most likely) leasing in SF vs. owning the land and building in the suburbs. Can they lease an entire building all to themselves, or will they be spread out over several different buildings? Would SF’s higher tax rates discourage them? Or would SF consider reducing the taxes as an incentive to encourage the companies to move to the City? Many questions to ask…

There is one other issue, however, I would like to bring up. A growing number of large corporations provide all sorts of benefits to their employees. More than just the traditional health and retirement plans, these include child care, on-site gyms, dry cleaning and 24-hour cafeterias. I read a few days ago about a couple, both employed by Google, who never ate at home or in any restaurants, because they ate all of their meals in the Google cafeteria. Sounds convienent, but this means that these people are less likely to spend money at local businesses, or otherwise engage in the greater community. Work becomes everything, and other social contacts–friends, church, community groups, even family, may get squeezed out. A good book along these lines is _Corporate Cults_ by Dr. Dave Arnott.

If we let them use our bus tops for free they should give us something in return. those buses go around almost empty most of the time, wasting, not saving energy. They should allow people going to their offices for an interview to ride them for starters.

Post New Comment