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Anti-gentrification campaign can't stomach swanky shuttles

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Pic Gangs of protesters halted Silicon Valley commuter buses in Oakland, California, this morning – with one group calling itself The Red Son swarming over a Yahoo! coach and one member throwing up over the windscreen.

The protest was staged outside the MacArthur Bay Area Rapid Transport station. It's claimed about 50 people surrounded private buses hired to shuttle Apple, Google, and Yahoo! techies to their offices far out of the city. Protesters blocked off the road and held up signs decrying the gentrification of the area by well-heeled tech-company employees.

The crowd blocked the buses from moving for 30 minutes until cops cleared the scene. The protest follows after a week-long campaign of action under the banner "Defend the Bay Area."

Yesterday, to celebrate April Fool's Day, the target was a Google bus in San Francisco's Mission district. Protesters in bright costumes performed in front of the path of the vehicle and handed out fake passes, encouraging members of the public to try and board the bus heading south to Mountain View.

Besides direct action, protesters are appealing to the San Francisco city council to get rid of the privately operated buses, and fund better public transport. On Tuesday, the council brokered a deal with technology companies whereby they can use public bus stops to pick up employees in exchange for a $1-per-day payment, despite opposition from campaigners in the city.

Since 2007, Google and others have been running commuter coaches (and the occasional ferry) around the Bay Area to pick up staff who prefer to live in the metropolis of San Francisco rather than the suburban hell that is much of Silicon Valley. The shuttles come with Wi-Fi, and in many cases catering, so staff can work on the road instead of sitting in traffic.

Companies providing the buses defend their use, pointing out that they keep traffic off the Bay Area's roads during rush hour. Google has also contributed $6.8 million over two years to fund free transport passes for San Francisco's young travelers.

Protesters argue that the buses are gentrifying the Bay Area, citing studies that show property prices rise 20 per cent around the corporate bus stops, effectively forcing non-techies out of the market. Over the last few years rents have risen sharply and evictions are also on the rise as landlords look to cash in on the property boom.

Corporate transport of this type is a very popular perk for staff in the Bay Area, and the number of private commuter buses has been rising steadily in this latest tech boom. Protests against them started in December and, despite moves to placate the populace by Google and others, look set to continue.

Die techie scum

Feelings are running high ... a bumper sticker handed out at the Anarchist Book Fair last month in Oakland, CA

The scale of the action has alarmed some in the community. Tom Perkins, the pioneering venture capitalist who's bankrolled much of the Bay Area's technology firms, said the protests were the portents of a coming Kristallnacht against moneybags engineers, although he later sort-of apologized for comparing the situation to the 1938 Nazi pogrom against Germany's Jewish population.

Perkins said the situation in the Bay Area was simply market forces in action, and argued San Francisco should get used to being a suburb of Silicon Valley. The octogenarian multimillionaire advised Google and others to hang tough and keep the buses running. ®

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