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San Francisco to charge Google, Facebook, others using public bus stops for employee shuttles

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SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco plans to start regulating employee shuttles for companies like Google, Facebook and Apple, charging a fee for those that use public bus stops and controlling where they load and unload.

The influx of private shuttle buses, which transport thousands of workers to their jobs, have created traffic problems on the city's narrow streets, blocking public bus stops during peak commute hours. They also have become a symbol of economic inequality for people concerned about the tech industry's impact on the area's rising housing costs.

Protesters have blocked buses in the city's Mission District, a popular tech employee neighbourhood where the shuttles are prevalent. In Oakland, protesters broke the window of a Google shuttle bus.

Mayor Ed Lee and other city leaders joined Google Inc., Facebook Inc., Apple Inc. and other companies Monday to announce a pilot program to charge a fee based on the number of stops each shuttle provider makes.

The city's public transportation system sees about 700,000 separate trips each weekday, so integrating the private employee shuttle system is a challenge.

"In recent years we've seen a wild wild West on our streets," said David Chiu, president of the city's Board of Supervisors. "This is an important first step in bringing some order and rules to our roads, as well as asking our companies to pay a fair share of what it costs the city to maintain our streets."

Mayor Lee says the shuttles are here to stay, and that they actually reduce gridlock and pollution by removing thousands of cars from roads each day.

"They've been helpful, in that but for them possibly we could see some 45,000 additional vehicle miles on our roadways or some 11,000 tons of carbon emissions on our streets," he said at a news conference Monday.

"I know that the more recent voices have been identifying these for purposes of political agendas and rhetoric, and I want to say that the commuter shuttles have been of benefit."

Under the pilot program proposed by the city, 200 of the city's 2,500 bus stops would be approved shuttle loading zones. The fees would pay for the administration of the program only, as state law only allows the fees to be used for that purpose.

Shuttle drivers would be ordered to yield to city buses, pulling to the front of bus stops to make room for other vehicles and avoiding steep and narrow city streets.

Google said in a statement that it is excited to work with the city to make transportation more efficient.

"We believe the pilot program is an important step in that direction," the statement said. "Google's Bay Area shuttles result in net annual savings of more than 20,000 metric tons of CO2. That's like taking about 4,000 cars off the road every day. "

The city's transportation board votes on the proposal Jan. 21.

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Jason Dearen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/JHDearen

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