Google builds mass transit for the privileged while shunning it for all?

Here in Silicon Valley a growing phenomena is “The Google Bus” which is actually practiced by many of the Tech Companies here, not just Google.  The simple implementation is a shuttle bus operated by the company that drives employees between the mass transit station and the campus.  But the new incarnation, The Google Bus, drives the employees over long distances, such as all the way from Mtn View to Santa Cruz, or San Ramon, or San Francisco.  This gives their employees the privilege of not having to deal with regular mass transit systems, making it a big perk for the employees, but it starves the publicly owned mass transit system of money and riders.

I don’t know if the practice is being done in other regions.  Again, this isn’t just Google, but many of the larger Tech companies in Silicon Valley, calling it The Google Bus is a short-hand.  Generally speaking the practice works as so:

Company contracts with shuttle bus operator – the buses are modern, sleek, full length buses, of the type you might see run by a Tour Bus operator
They arrange bus routes that pick up employees wherever they live
The bus is comfortable, has corporate-owned WiFi, etc
Hence the commute time could be counted as office time

Unfortunately the SF Bay Area has a fractured mass transit system.  This means that if Google tells their employees who live in San Francisco or Santa Cruz to take the public mass transit, those employees have a lot of trouble on their hands.  Because we don’t have a unified mass transit system, a trek from San Francisco to Google’s headquarters means traversing at least three transit systems, paying fares into three or more different systems, a lot of hassle, and the possibility of missing critical connections.  A big issue is that the VTA system is inadequate and doesn’t serve the corridors where Tech Companies locate themselves.
Again – this isn’t just Google, it’s many other Tech companies as well.  When I worked for Yahoo, they had a similar system.  However, I’ve stood on the Google campus in the late afternoon and watched as shuttle bus after bus after bus drove by.  Google does this thing in a big way.

To Google and the other Tech companies they’re gaining two benefits

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Giving perks to their employees that also give the employees more office time thanks to the WiFi in the bus
Claiming some kind of green cred by reducing traffic on the highways and maybe they can calculate a carbon foot print reduction – for example some of these bus operators use biofuels

But it means Google and the other Tech companies are spending some of their dollars to build a privately owned transit system that solely serves their employees.  Further, there is duplication of effort because each company builds its own transit system.

In the macro-economics level – this is a misallocation of money, because if all that money were pooled into one publicly owned transit system it would benefit everyone.  Instead money is allocated to benefit the privileged who are lucky enough to work for a big Tech Company.

In part the problem is that the SF Bay Area’s transit system is not offering proper service for the employers in the region.  The employers are voting with their feet and dollars to create a system serving their needs.  Do the employers care if it’s a misallocation of resources?  Apparently not.

SF protesters block Google buses

Some in San Francisco understand the things I’ve written above – and decided to blockade the Google Buses because they come down on the side of this is Google doing Evil against the publicly owned transit systems.
Reality is of course a little more complex than that simplified summation – but really, as a proponent of green transportation and cleaning up the total transportation system, I have to say that The Google Bus is a bad move on the part of the various Tech companies that do it.
It means great transit systems for the privileged while the rest of us suffer with inadequate transit systems.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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