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Activists sue San Francisco for letting 'Google bus' use public bus stops

Activists sue San Francisco for letting 'Google bus' use public bus stops

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Tech industry shuttles have become a symbol of economic inequality and gentrification in San Francisco, sparking a variety of protests since late last year. Now, activists are trying to hold city leaders accountable for letting those shuttles use public bus stops, and allowing them to operate without regard for their environmental impact on the city and its residents. A coalition of activist groups is suing the city, county, board of supervisors, the local transit agency, the shuttle companies, and Mayor Ed Lee himself, for creating a pilot program that charges bus companies just $1 per stop and granting it a special exemption from California's environmental review law.

Protesters allege preferential treatment for tech companies

From the get-go, San Francisco protesters treated the pilot progam with scorn. When every single passenger who wants to ride a public bus has to pay $2, it might not seem fair that a entire busload of well-paid tech workers should get to ride for a single dollar per stop. It seemed that the city had found a way to legalize an illegal practice, in their eyes, by charging a token amount. (Other vehicles stopping at bus stops face hefty fines.) But the heart of this latest lawsuit is that the city may also have unfairly exempted the program from the very environmental review that might have found fault with the idea. You can read the full complaint here.

Generally, projects that might impact residents have to undergo an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act — the same review that the city's own public bus system is undergoing now. But the city declared the shuttle program exempt as a form of "information collection," a type of exemption usually reserved for the likes of soil and water tests. When activists filed an appeal last month, the city board of supervisors rejected it in an 8-2 decision, so now they're hoping to make their case in court.

"We know that these buses are having devastating impacts on our neighborhoods, driving up rents and evictions of long-time San Francisco residents," said Sara Shortt of SF's Housing Rights Committee, which helped file the lawsuit. "We've protested in the streets and taken our plea to City Hall to no avail. We hope to finally receive justice in a court of law," she told the SF Examiner.