Amid widespread protests over tech companies' use of public transit infrastructure, Google said today it would fund two years of free transit rides for San Francisco youth. The $6.8 million grant, which is said to be one of the largest private donations in the city's history, will fund the year-old Free Muni for Low Income Youth program. The cost of the program was previously paid by the city. More than 31,000 low-income youth, ages 5 to 17, have taken advantage of the program since it began a year ago.
Google's donation comes a month after it and other tech companies agreed to pay for their use of public bus stops to transport workers to and from their campuses in private shuttles. The shuttles have become a powerful symbol for rising inequality in the Bay Area, where evictions of lower-income residents have skyrocketed as landlords seek to profit from the influx of affluent tech workers. Protests have continued even after the agreement, in part because the deal does not generate any new revenue for the city. "With this unprecedented gift from Google, we can keep this successful pilot program running for at least two more years at no cost to taxpayers or Muni riders and free up critical funds for other vital Muni maintenance and services," Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement.
For months, activists have been calling on tech companies to make a larger contribution to the communities that help them attract and retain top workers. Google's move today signals that pressure from the community has gotten the company's attention. "San Francisco residents are rightly frustrated that we don't pay more to use city bus stops," Google said in a statement to The Verge. "So we'll continue to work with the city on these fees, and in the meantime will fund MUNI passes for low income students for the next two years."