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Bay Area plots Googlebus tax after local residents riot

Local gov takes crumbs from rich cos to salve anti-gentrification protestors' woes

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San Francisco officials have announced an 18-month pilot plan to tax tech company buses, after numerous protests by locals against the luxurious Silicon Valley worker wagons.

The scheme was announced on Monday and means that companies like Google, Genentech, Apple, and others will start paying local officials for the use of around 200 of the city's 2,500 public bus stops – a move which could bring in tens of thousands of dollars per stop per month, according to a press release, and as much as $1.5m over the course of its pilot 18-month tryout phase.

This partnership follows a wave of protests that have gripped the Bay Area in past months, culminating in one Google commuter bus having its window smashed-in by activists in Oakland last month.

Though the buses keep cars off the road, they have become a symbol of gentrification as rents boom in the Bay Area due to a combination of constricted housing supply, and a newly wealthy class of tech types that are young and want to live in cool (read: poor) areas, and have the cash to put down a 12 month rental on an apartment without having a heart attack.

Each shuttle will be given a unique identification number to allow "enforcement personnel" to identify vehicles. This, combined with information-sharing between bus operators and the authorities, should make it easy for people to file complaints if buses (or their riders) behave badly.

Tech company shuttles provide around 35,000 boardings per day in San Francisco and reduce congestion on the Bay Area's clogged Mad Max freeways, the press release said.

But though the scheme is being spun as a way of settling the scores between Joe Poor Public and Big Bad Tech Companies, the amount it could make is risible. Around 35,000 people board the buses per day for around 260 days per year - so the shuttles, by these figures, carry out some 9.1 million rides.

If the city was charging prices equivalent to local Bay Area Rapid Transportation system then that would yield a revenue of around $18.2m per year, compared with the $1.5m or so the City is claiming it will make out of this scheme.

Why can't the city pull a Robin Hood and take more from the tech cos? Because it is restricted by Proposition 218 – a Kafkaesque bit of regulation that prohibits local governments from making more money off a property-related fee than the cost of providing the item the fee is being charged against – in this case a fraction of the time available at public bus stops.

This is the sort of regulation that the public sector deals with, and tech companies never have to worry about, making the whole scheme seem more like a stunt than a mature answer to the problems the buses represent.

Finally, it's worth pointing out we've been here before when a similar set of protests gripped the city in 2008, but the slogans back then – "mission+exploitation" – we're less punchy than today's "Die Techie Scum". ®

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