March 19, 2009

Shuttle Buses: Useful or Menace?

Sanchez St. / Day St.

In 2007 Google bowed to Noe Valley concerns and agreed to stop using streets west of Church St for its popular employee shuttles. Apparently that didn't last long (see above photo from October 2008) Not all companies are following suit (see comments) and the City is now looking to regulation.

The SFCTA is conducting a Strategic Analysis Report (SAR) to determine what steps, if any, the City needs to take. Here's an outtake from the Resolution [PDF] authorizing the SAR:
An important consideration in looking at shuttles, is whether their place in the spectrum of San Francisco transit services is clearly defined in existing policy and planning documents. We anticipate that some of the policy decisions that will be highlighted by the SAR will deal with regulation and oversight, support for shuttles as part of San Francisco’s Transit First Policy, and whether there should be efforts to recapture into regular fixed-route transit some of the ridership currently on shuttles.
The study will look at vans, mini-buses and full-sized coaches; the study is not looking at airport shuttles or MUNI. In other words, this study could effect everything from Google buses to Whole Foods shuttles to BART to senior mobility services.

How can you make your voice heard? One way is to attend the next Upper Noe Neighbors meeting on March 26th, 7:30pm, at the Upper Noe Rec Center:
Here's [part of] the agenda:

Private shuttle services--the S.F County Transportation Authority is looking into neighborhood issues associated with these buses. Representatives from the SFCTA will be at this meeting. This is your chance to let them know how they affect our neighborhood and discuss ways to mitigate problems. This is bound to be a lively discussion as residents have been voicing complaints about this for quite a while.
Can't make the meeting? The SFCTA is accepting comments by mail or email. Please address the following questions:
  • Have you observed shuttles operating or stopping in your neighborhood? Where and how often?
  • What trip purpose(s) do the shuttles serve (e.g. work, school, recreation or other needs)?
  • What benefits and/or impacts have you observed from shuttles in your neighborhood?
  • What role do you see shuttles playing in your neighborhood?
Direct comments to Margaret Cortes,, San Francisco Transportation Authority, 100 Van Ness Avenue, 26th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94102.

And if you think shuttle drivers are dangerous, or if the buses are creating hazardous conditions contact the SFPD and Bevan Dufty. This recent note from Capt. Dennis O'Leary of the Ingleside station to Officer Kathy Pubill suggests they'll act: "Please evaluate and determine what codes are being violated. Contact the bus company with suggestions to stop the complaints."

If this SAR creates law, the SFPD won't have to attack this ad hoc.

Note -- If you go to the meeting on the 26th, please send us minutes to post. Thanks!

[SFCTA: Resolution No. 09-27]
[NVV: Google Shifts Bus Stop to Church Street]


Anonymous said...

FYI, that's not a Google bus in the photo.

adam said...

The photo above is an Apple shuttle.

Noe Valley, SF said...

Noted. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to provide some feedback from the point of view of a longtime NV resident and recent shuttle rider.

First, I think your article repeats the common error of associating shuttles with Google. Other commenters have already noted that your picture is an Apple bus. Blocking shuttle access into NV would impact a great many of our residents & neighbors, of all ages and careers. This isn't just about Google (for better or for worse).

In the interests of good journalism, I think you should note that these shuttles service NV employees of many companies. When I filled out the survey, my answer to "which shuttles do you see" listed Google, Yahoo, Apple, Ebay/Paypal, Genentech, Wal-Mart, and the senior center on 30th St.

As a shuttle rider, I would also like to respond to three claims that come up quite often, and I expect will be repeated at next Thursday's meeting.

1. Shuttles cause people to move to our neighborhood, and that's "bad". I don't think it's fair to blame shuttles for this. I have lived in NV far longer than there have been shuttles, and people have always been clamoring to live here. Remember the days of lines around the block for open rentals? This was well before the first bus appeared on 24th St. Shuttles are just the latest scapegoat for the age old problem of too many people wanting to live in SF (and in NV).

2. Shuttle drivers are "dangerous". What's more dangerous: A professionally trained & licensed driver on a known, practiced route? Or the 40 people from that bus, in their own cars, sleepy, with on hand on the wheel and the other hand on their coffee mug?

3. Shuttle riders take away from mass transit. This may be true, but let's be honest: Taking the 48 to/from the Caltrain station just doesn't work. It takes forever. I want to get a reasonable workday in *and* spend time with my child, and the shuttle really supports that. It helps me be a better parent.

I don't have a problem with the city providing some structure around shuttle services. The residents of Jersey St. had every right to complain about busses idling in front of their homes. But shuttles provide a valuable service to NV residents, and we should find a way to make them work. I urge my fellow NV residents to work together and find a mutually beneficial solution.

kitchen bitch said...

I agree the shuttle buses provide a great service to the people who use them but also the environment. Noe Valley residents are sometimes just go way overboard on the battles they pick. Apparently they have no issue with a shuttle bus coming to 24th street every Tuesday to pick up people and bring them to Whole Foods. Work with the shuttle bus services instead of spending so much energy fighthing them.

Anonymous said...

that is the apple bus. it is still goes up sanchez street

Anonymous said...

I am a fan of these, and I don't ride them (am not an employee of these companies). I do live in the area (NV) though. Reason I am a fan is:
a) they bring more business to the 24th street stores, because they tend to walk (esp along 24th St.) and are more likely to shop / eat / etc. than if they were driving themselves directly to/from their home.
b) I actually like the idea of folks walking in the neighborhood...sorta think it makes us all safer with more folks walking to/from their homes and these shuttle stops.
c) I think one bus with 20 people is still safer than 12 separate drivers (assume some of the 20 carpool if not for the bus).
d) Likewise, 1 bus with 20 people is less conjestion on the road than, say, 12 cars.

- NV person.

Anonymous said...

Because I take one of those shuttles, I park my car at work instead of overcrowded NV streets.

- NV resident

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with them EXCEPT that I think that they should keep to established bus routes. The Apple bus goes down Sanchez, and then turns on 26th. There is really not enough room to turn, and so cars are often backed up because there is not enough room to swing into the outside land. This is a BIG problem in the late afternoon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Adam, for your comments, I agree with your statements.
I'll add that, because there is a shuttle available for me to ride (I work in Cupertino), I got rid of my two cars. My only personal vehicle is now a motorcycle, and 99% of my travel is by bicycle or on foot.
In SF, in NV, I know we all see the benefit of having fewer cars competing for street parking or on the roads, and mass transit, including charter shuttles, is the best way to accomplish car reduction. Whatever tweaks we can do, such as dictating which streets and corners are best for shuttle service, I hope our shared goal will be to encourage the use of mass transit including shuttles.

I hope the owners of Cafe XO and Church Grocery are present, they might express their pleasure in the revenue the shuttle riders bring to their shops every weekday morning.

Dave M. on Duncan St.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, the pictured shuttle uses the exact same route as the 24 Divis/Castro bus, it uses the standard bus stop locations, and the drivers are, in my opinion, safer and more courteous than the Muni drivers.

Anonymous said...

Sanchez and Day (as pictured) is not the 24 Divis/Casto bus line. There is no MUNI bus that goes down Sanchez, nor down 26th Street between Noe and Church.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the driver was avoiding an accident or construction that day? That bus route does not go down Church at all; it only crosses Church at 30th; same as the 24.

For what it's worth, I've also gotten rid of my car since I started riding the shuttle. Now I provide more parking opportunities for the Noe Valley editors who are complaining about the problems of mass transit.

Unknown said...

I walk (or take Muni) from Bernal to NV every day to get on one of these shuttles. In the morning, I routinely patronize Cafe XO. I too ditched my car after this service started.

Anonymous said...

I watched the bus go by our house tonight on 26th Street at Sanchez at 6:00. We see it every night.

Anonymous said...

The regular bus route is down Sanchez EVERY day. Not a MUNI route, for obvious reasons.

Anonymous said...

I chose to live in Noe Valley specifically because of the bus (and the route) pictured, and I'm glad I did. Because of the bus I never drive to work - indeed, I sometimes go weeks without driving my car - and I patronize 24th street business frequently, as I'm dropped off there every day after work.

Despite being obviously biased, it's hard for me to understand the complaints. The shuttle pictured keeps dozens, if not hundreds, of commuters out of cars and off of MUNI every day, it encourages people to patronize local business by dropping off in commercial centers, and it follows the 24 MUNI bus route. What are the downsides?

I encourage everyone in support of the shuttles to be present and voice your support at the Upper Noe Neighbors meeting on March 26th. I'll be there.

Anonymous said...

I depend on the work shuttle daily and I live in NV. We moved to be on or near a work shuttle route so I didn't have to drive and we could become a one car family. I like that NV had a shuttle going through it and don't see any problems if done responsibly. In my opinion, MUNI busses are louder, especially the diesel powered ones, and the drivers are not as skilled, as they pull out into traffic and don't demonstrate consistent courteous and safe driving behavior. Riding the 24 is horrible experience, as it always feels like the riders need seat belts or shoulder harnesses, and the drivers have little regard for the passengers behind him/her tossing about because of their awful driving.
But I digress. I am a proponent of the shuttles following the same routes as the MUNI to keep the larger vehicles all following the same established paths.
This article seems to have negative slant, using the word "menace" as if there is some untoward threat by companies or organizations, and proceeds to use the word "dangerous" and "hazardous conditions". What about all the benefits realized by using commuting options? Cars off the road? Less congestion? Walking through the neighborhoods? Attractive neighborhoods for people to move into because it offers them choices and benefits?
I'll definitely be at this community meeting to be a positive voice for the many benefits shuttles offer.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it should be taken lightly by the city of SF that we are in a significant recession. The shuttles are a means for people with relatively high pay and relatively stable jobs to live in San Francisco neighborhoods. Also, as people that go through all of the pain of commuting in order to live in SF we are definitely patronizing local-owned and operated businesses and restaurants (why else would we live there :) ).

In this economy, deterring people with stable income from living in your city is a really bad move. Hopefully with the amount of Google, Apple, E-bay etc.. employees living in these neighborhoods during the recession a lot of these small businesses will be able to stay on their feet.

Wil Fab said...

The 24 does not go up Sanchez, it goes up Noe. The bus in the picture above follows the 24 line everywhere except that it goes up Sanchez instead of Noe.

It seems that moving the route to Noe to follow the 24 completely would clear up most of the complaints.

Anonymous said...

One of the common misperceptions about Noe Valley residents who are concerned about the number of these buses in the neighborhood is that we're trying to deter people from living here or don't appreciate the value of taking cars off the roads. This is not the case nor is it germaine to the genunine concerns of residents. From my point of view, these can be summarized as:

The size of the majority of the buses (Setras) is in violation of CA vehicle laws. These buses are simply too large to be considered safe on narrow residential streets.

The bus routes are unregulated and therefore are not subject to approrpriate transportation planning and citizen input. MUNI buses are frequently forced out of their designated bus stops and riders are forced to board or disembark from MUNI in the middle of already over-crowded streets. This is a safety issue and a violation of SF traffic laws.

It is not clear that bus frequency is based on ridership volume or employee convenience. With so many companies running these buses with such frequency, neighborhoods have been deeply impacted by the size, noise and pollution they create.

Some company shuttles limit their pick up and drop off locations to MUNI and BART stations and open up their service for free to non-employees who work nearby. Such a service is available to me and I've not heard any complaints from riders that they must travel to a BART station to catch the shuttle. This is a perfectly reasonable way to integrate existing public transportation services with company shuttles and avoid routes that zig-zag through narrow residential streets.

Anonymous said...

Speaking just as a rider on the Apple Shuttle that goes through Divisadero/Castro, my observation is this:

This one shuttle line, with three buses during morning rush hour (7:30~, 8:15~ and 8:35~), typically drive about 100-140 people down. Let's say that with a bit of carpooling going on, that effectively takes 100 cars out of the equation in morning traffic. It also adds 100-140 people to the business at shops & stores in NV.

Now, I think the positive effects of this, multiplied by the other companies and adding the other bus hours (a 6:30am and 10:30am one), far outweigh the negative result we would all get from banning these shuttles.

However, there are very valid concerns that should be looked into: the exact route some of the shuttles take, the narrow streets and corners where they make turns, the driving speeds — all of that can and should be investigated some more. I'm sure some improvements will be possible in those areas. For instance, on the corner where the shuttle's turn radius is so big that it becomes troublesome, perhaps one parking spot on the end can be sacrificed to broaden the available space on that corner, for both flow and safety reasons.

Just a sample idea. I love living in (or near enough, anyway) Noe Valley and the only reason I can really do so is because of these shuttle services. I don't want them to cause problems but the way I see it, the most egregious concerns can be resolved fairly easily.

Anonymous said...

Sacrifice a parking space? Parking in Noe is hard as it is, and my guess is that on most blocks the neighbors will be very opposed to losing another parking spot.

kitchen bitch said...

Parking is not that difficult. I do it every day and live on 24th/Noe and I never have to park within one block radius of my house.

But I agree I do not want parking spots taken away.

Anonymous said...

I've been living in NV for 16 years and riding my corporate shuttle for nearly 2 yrs. Love both dearly. And am delighted everyday when I see how many riders are on the shuttle and think about how many cars that takes off the road.

I car pooled from NV to the South Bay for 2 years and was disgusted to see how many single drivers there were in cars.

The shuttle is great!

Anonymous said...

"Useful or Menace" does not seem like a very balanced comparison. It should say "Awesome or Menace?" or it should be "Useful or Inconvenient?"

Also, in response to whether the shuttle operators consider ridership when they plan routes: I can't speak for everyone but at Apple they definitely do. The program has been built slowly in direct response to the number of riders and how often they ride. By the time it picks me up in the Mission, it's nearly full.

Anonymous said...

Although I'm moving out of NV due to expansion of my family, I have taken the shuttle for two years, and loved it.

We would have been a two car family if it wasn't for this shuttle to transport me every day up and down.

As it becomes more and more difficult to park your car in NV, I just wonder what these people would say if all the shuttle riders would park their new cars in front of their doors.

Let alone the pollution and the hazards on the street of people driving to work, while drinking coffee or checking email on blackberry or iphone.

The shuttle keeps people from spending money on gas, which can be spend on brunch in the weekends. In this economy, guess what will be the first one to go if gas money needs to fit into the budget.

Of all these points, I think the environment is my strongest argument. We offset so much carbon by not driving ourselves.

And to the argument of public transport: have you ever taken public transport all the way down to San Jose? I did for 1 months in 2006. It took me 2.5 hours to get to work. Insane!

And BTW> stopping at a Bart station on Mission, trust me, not an option, unless you want to get held at gunpoint and robbed!

No, these shuttles are good for a lot of things!

Anonymous said...

What frustrates me most about these buses is how they make Noe Valley feel more like a bedroom community. It makes it so much easier for people to get jobs in the South Bay, yet live in the City.

If you really cared about the environment that much, why not just move closer to your job & not spend so much time in transit from one to the other, regardless of how you got there.

Can you lobby your employer to open up proper SF offices so the money *really* does come back into the SF economy? You could take Muni [which is run on electricity] like the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Noe Valley Resident - thanks for your comment above. I do strongly disagree with one point you made:

"With so many companies running these buses with such frequency, neighborhoods have been deeply impacted by the size, noise and pollution they create."

I ask you to justify the claim that the shuttles "deeply impact" Noe Valley in a negative manner.

If one counts the number of residents that no longer have to commute though Noe Valley by car, I find it hard to believe that these shuttles negatively impact the noise or pollution in the neighborhood.

As for the size, I don't know of a single accident that has occurred due to the bus size in the more than a year that the buses pictured above have been running through the neighborhood.

I understand the desire to limit the amount of traffic through the neighborhood, and I also encourage you to think about the positive benefits of the shuttles. Surely some accommodation can be reached that doesn't involve massive inconvenience for the neighborhood residents that these shuttles serve.

murphstahoe said...

"What frustrates me most about these buses is how they make Noe Valley feel more like a bedroom community. It makes it so much easier for people to get jobs in the South Bay, yet live in the City."

What frustrates me is that 24th St has very few destination shops - it basically services Noe Valley, yet there is always traffic and the parking spots are full with people who drive from 27th and Sanchez to 24th and Noe twice daily to go to the Post Office and grab a bagel.

I have chosen to live here because this community offers the ability to not have a car given that the one trip I make that is beyond easy walking/bike distance has an excellent mass transit solution. This is almost certainly true of my peer group.

Heather said...

I'd like to chime in as another shuttle rider who, because of the shuttles, has been able to live in NV without a car.

I know there are a lot of shuttle riders like me and I'm telling you - the shuttles are doing way more good for the community (in terms of freeing up the little parking there is, increasing foot traffic, decreasing morning traffic in the area, etc.) than bad.

You say it's annoying when the shuttle takes time getting around a corner but guess what would take longer... having hundreds and hundreds of more cars driving that route every day.

Eric said...

If, as Faruk AteĊŸ said, there are only 100-140 passengers over three Apple shuttle runs, I find it curious that no shuttle-rider thus far in this thread has suggested consolidating the shuttles among companies. Does every large company on the peninsula really need their own line? That is, if you really are that concerned about reducing the number of commuters, cars in your garage, and the environmental effects.

And yes, the shuttle(s) that go(es) down Sanchez is loud.

murphstahoe said...

Consolidating those shuttles would be akin to consolidating the J-Church and the N-Judah.

Yoyo said...

Noe Valley Resident,

I decided to consult the California vehicle code and San Francisco municipal code on this matter.

California V.C. section 35400(10)(A) states that buses up to 45 feet (that's the length of the Setras) can have reasonable access between highways and "points of loading and unloading for motor carriers of passengers". So the size itself isn't in violation, and these buses do travel to Noe Valley and other neighborhoods to load and unload passengers. The question remains: what is reasonable access?

Here, the SF transportation code has something to say. Section 501 lists a whole host of streets on which heavy vehicles (over 6000 lbs.) are forbidden; a number of these are in Noe Valley west of Church, but Sanchez is not included. Section 7.2.87 also forbids commercial passenger vehicles (capacity 8 or more) from the streets listed in Section 501 (the code says 503, which doesn't exist; 501 appears to be the correct referenced section, from an old version of the code).

Also of note, Section 601 lists some transit-only areas, but these refer to paths, like streetcar or light rail lines, rather than parking spots.

So I can't find any evidence that these shuttles are in violation of San Francisco or California laws. However, it seems that the list of forbidden streets is updated incrementally, so it's probably viable to petition your supervisor to get your quiet street added to it.

Noe Valley, SF said...

Anyone go? Some people copied us on letters to the SFCTA, but we'd love to hear how the meeting went. Less about the NIMBY-ness, more about the approach from the CTA and next steps. Thanks!

Greg said...

I've been riding the shuttle to work for 2 years, and it's been a great experience. I don't have a car, I work at a job I love, and I get spend my evenings and weekends walking around a great city.

That said, as a resident I've been painfully aware of the impact of noise and size of some of the buses. Banning the shuttles is not a viable solution, but I think there's a lot we can do to mitigate the impact (such as coordinating with MUNI, using high-density routes rather than side streets, using different-sized buses based on ridership, etc). I'd love to hear some other solutions.

Anonymous said...

I thought NV was supposed to be filled with smart, educated professionals!? Anyone with half a brain knows these shuttles (unless they are driving around empty) are doing a HUGE service to the community. Shame on you NV residents who complain and lie to get what you want.

Ebermingham said...

Thanks to all of you who attended the Upper Noe Neighbors meeting about the shuttle study. My name is Eileen Bermingham, and I helped to run the meeting. I am on the board of the Upper Noe Neighbors. We will keep you posted on future developments on this topic.

Anonymous said...

The residents of Noe Valley should concentrate on something else that the way people get to work... Maybe prop 8? Is it our right to chose who people want to marry? This is almost the same the as "Is it our right to chose how people get to work?"

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that the population using these shuttles (while not necessarily as vocal or participatory as neighborhood activists) is very large, and they all vote. If Bevan Dufty has any interest in being mayor, he should realize that catering to the Upper Noe Neighbors on this one is only going to hurt him in the long run.

Brooke said...

I would actually love to patronize the YouTube shuttle that goes through Noe Valley and delivers to San Bruno. I think making sure the shuttles are filled is a great way to further justify them. I'm currently having a headache morning commute (Muni to Bart then 1-mile walk). Any YouTubers on here who know an HR person I can contact? Or is it just easy to hop on without ID? I'd be grateful for info. Many thanks!!

Carrie said...

Neighbors, please don't just take the time to write a comment here. Yes, perhaps some nice citizen will cut and paste everything into one document and forward it on to those that have a say in whether or not these shuttles continue or not, but chances are you need to contact those in power DIRECTLY.

Direct comments to:, San Francisco Transportation Authority. Please copy

I am whole-heartedly in favor of these shuttles. If they need to park right in front of my house in order to pick people up, that's fine and I will gladly lend my driveway. I cannot believe people are complaining about shared commuting that allows more SF residents to remain gainfully employed (while staying in San Francisco) and reducing their impact on the planet!