Flickr/cjmartin

The city reaches a pilot agreement with tech companies operating the controversial private transportation networks.

Earlier this week, the city of San Francisco reached a detente with the Silicon Valley tech firms whose private buses have become a major source of traffic and civic discord. For several years, companies like Google and Apple have been running what amounts to a parallel private transportation network – with much nicer amenities – from the heart of the city to their far-flung campuses, often using public bus stops in the process. And the congestion has only grown worse as protesters have descended on the buses as a symbol of the mixed blessings of a new tech boom.

Now, under an 18-month pilot agreement, the tech companies and shuttle operators will have to acquire – and pay for – permits to use some designated public Muni bus stops (the busiest stops won't be available to them). And the shuttles will be required to yield to Muni buses while they're there. The city has said the average permit will likely cost each company around $100,000 per year, a figure that will surely prompt more dispute over what constitutes a "fair share" for private use of public infrastructure.

Nancy Scola describes the rest of the details over at The Shared City:

Beyond that, there’s a bid in the plan to identify buses according to which company is responsible for running them — despite the moniker, not all the shuttles belong to Google. The city, [Mayor Ed] Lee said, will also get data from the companies that it can use in future planning, a point of contention that has emerged again and again in debates over quasi-public, quasi-private transportation. (Uber’s fight to operate in Washington D.C., for example.) The city will also share that data back with shuttle bus operators.

Part of the public fascination (or scorn) with these buses has stemmed from their opaque nature. Even the city admits that it's had a hard time keeping tabs on exactly how many shuttles are operating, how many people they carry, and where their routes run. The private network has also been the source of much rogue mapping.

San Francisco will now no doubt get a better sense of the extent of this private transportation system. And then maybe we'll be able to better judge the net impact of these buses in taking private cars off the region's roads, while enabling so many people to live so far from their jobs (or, rather, enabling companies to locate so far from their desired workers).

In the meantime, Google is already at work on its next foray into commuter services: It's reportedly launching a ferry shuttle.

Top image from a protest in San Francisco in December: FLickr user cjmartin.

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