To Americans and their skewed sense of distance, Mountain View, the Silicon Valley home to don’t-be-evil behemoth Google, is very close to San Francisco. Roughly 40 driving miles (64 km) separate the two cities. Little wonder many Googlers and other techies choose to live in infinitely cooler (both literally and figuratively) San Francisco instead of the Silicon Valley’s sprawling suburban strip-mall spine. I can relate. Yours truly is married to one of the non-Google techies* who chose, albeit briefly, a home in San Francisco over Silicon Valley.
With the above in mind, it can be quite the commute to get to the many companies in the Peninsula. No sane person wants to make the daily drive up and down the highways that connect San Francisco, San Jose and all the tech towns in-between, but, in typical California public transport dysfunction, the Caltrain commuter rail conveniently does not stop at the corporate campuses that define Silicon Valley. Thus, we have the Google Bus and other comparably swanky corporate shuttles (think Apple and Genentech.)
Although completely private, the Google Bus and its other counterparts use SFMTA’s public bus stops, like the MUNI stop at 24th and Castro that the Vachette and I frequently used. In fact, the buses often arrive within minutes of each other and pass each other SF’s already busy streets.
The existence of these buses not only highlights the demand for better public transportation; it also shows there is the financial means to do something to ameliorate the current lack of options. Even though carpooling on such a massive scale has its benefits, this transportation solution is only available to those fortunate enough to work for these companies. (If you consider their salaries, tech works already are a rather fortunate bunch.)
I find this private sector answer to gridlock unsettling. Instead of having a system all seven million Bay Area residents can utilize, the rich and socially awkward can migrate further north into San Francisco, and with their six-figure incomes, price out everyone else who can barely afford the rent. This is where I point you to Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant essay about the Google Bus and its effects on her city and its famed character. She evokes a reality that is more reminiscent of robber barons than San Francisco’s legendary Haight-Ashbury heyday (there’s no way hippies could afford today’s rents.) Read it. It provides some interesting food for thought.
*In the spirit of disclosure, my code-writing geekier half works at a company with offices both in San Francisco and Mountain View. This company does not provide its shuttle service between the two locales, but, in a more egalitarian fashion, it will pick up the tab for his Caltrain ticket when he has to go into MV.