Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Noe Google Buses

These shuttle buses from Google (and other companies) come into the neighborhood in the evenings and mornings picking up tech workers and bringing them down to their respective south bay campuses. Many times I'll see the buses zooming up 24th street from the direction of the BART station on my way home and see them also almost bottom out at Dolores and 24th on the hill ridge. At times I myself will curse the Google kidz under my breath because of thier company heads' inability to locate near public transit so that these riders would patronize the system set up for everyone. How many of those workers would rather have a 15 minute ride on the J instead of a 40 minute ride to the campus.

I'm kind of torn on these shuttles. On one hand, it's a really huge freakin bus running up a residential street. But it is getting people that would likely be driving down 101 into more fuel efficienct ways. I don't have the same problem as others seem to have, complaining that affluent people have come to live in the neighborhood.

Signs in San Francisco

On the other hand, it's very stupid and un-environmental for these companies to locate such large office clusters away from conventional transit hubs. For all this talk of being green and forward thinking, companies like Google prove with their locational decisions that they don't understand how much transportation and land use plays into greenhouse gas emissions. But most of silicon valley is like that. Worst. Employment. Sprawl. Evah.

Because so many people want to live in a place that is walkable like San Francisco, you would think that businesses in the South Bay would look harder at trying to make more places like that instead of allowing even more junk down there. Facebook has actually caused a price spike in Palo Alto for helping thier workers live closer to work. I think this is a better solution than the shuttle buses but these companies are also skewing the local housing markets.

For "campuses" like Google, it seems that they could have built an office building downtown (they do have some offices in San Francisco) and saved more of thier employees money by allowing them to easily take transit to work. Instead they get more free parking which I would say if there is free parking at work, it is even more incentive to not live a location efficient lifestyle. Especially if you think you're special because you have solar panels over the parking. I wonder how much more Greenhouse Gases each of their employees emits because they drive a lot versus the amount of greenhouse gases those solar panels save.


Morgan Wick said...

Part of it, I think, is that a lot of these companies have a lot of servers and other computers, so they need space for that, and a lot of other miscellaneous demands for power, like cooling (which means they either need space for generators or draw a lot of power from either the building itself or the city grid).

Donny said...

This article comes off as whining more than a good argument, mostly because the author doesn't seem to approve of any company out there. First, he rams Google and others for having a suburban campus and complains about them providing transit for only their employees. He feels it was irresponsible of those companies to not locate their campuses near transit stops. What's so different between this service and school buses for children? But then he rams Facebook for having a downtown office and allowing their employees to be able to walk to work, however skewing the housing market in Palo Alto. Yo! Buddy! You can't have it both ways!

He says he wants these companies all in downtown SF so they can all take public transportation. After seeing Google's campus, I can't imagine them having their "atmosphere" without their own campus. It doesn't work. And how dare he rip on Facebook for doing exactly what all urban planners want big companies to do.

Michael J. said...

I used to work for google... back when there was only a few daily shuttles down from the city. A big part of why I left was the pain in the *ss it was to get yourself out there everyday.

Also of note... I saw a presentation by the google's "direction of transportation" last year. Apparently now they cover more land area with their daily shuttles than any of the 40+ bay area transit agencies. right - more than even Bart.

They also do have some very impressive carpool incentive programs etc. Like, they provide you with the prius, if you can fill it.

Eh, I wish it was in the interest of these companies' bottom lines to locate themselves in the urban center rather than out in reclaimed marsh land - but it's not. IMHO, that's how we should be approaching the problem. Programs like the google shuttle, while not ideal, are still generally a good thing...

jwb said...

It does seem like misplaced anger to complain about Google. They don't have anywhere near enough parking for all their Mountain View employees. Compare to Yahoo! who provides free parking for every employee, or old-line Silicon Valley companies like AMD, National Semiconductor, etc who do the same thing.

Also if you think you can get anywhere on the J-Church in 15 minutes, you're high.

Anonymous said...

all of the shuttles whether Google to some sprawlburb "campus" or Mills College from UC Berkeley are a symptom of of the bad image of public transit. In Google's case (or any other sprawl biister) it is the decision to locate in a "desert" while attracting employees from equally unserved areas. In the Mills case it is providing a "safe" and fast point to point service where even though public transit DOES link the places, the buses are slow and have too many unfriendlies for the comfort level of the potential riders. In the latter case, this is circular because every "nicer" rider siphoned off lowers the balance on the public bus. We need to make locating in a transit desert VERY expensive with a punitive transit service fee as well as heavily taxing parking spaces. In turn the public transiot agencies need to make more efforts to understand their markets and serve them better.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Donny, It's not supposed to be an argument. Its just what came to my head when I was thinking about it last night. I was also saying it was good that Facebook has a downtown office but the unintended consequence was higher rents. I also don't believe that they should all be in downtown San Francisco. They could be in downtown San Jose or Downtown Oakland or Downtown Palo Alto for all I care. At least they are in a place that has a frequency of transit that would allow them to get to work with everyone else.

Michael J. I think you're right, they are still generally a good thing because it gets these folks out of their cars.

I get places on the J in 15 minutes all the time btw. It takes 18 minutes to get from 24th and Church to Powell.

Anonymous said...

Putting new power and new data lines into a skyscraper is a pain in the caboose. That's part of why high tech is wary of downtown areas.

But that should not mean an office park in the middle of nowhere. European cities function very nicely with downtown areas where 10 floors is as high as it gets. American cities could give up on skyscrapers and be a great deal better off. Only Manhattan really needs them.

jwb said...

Trolleypoll, the difference is the Google shuttle runs on a schedule to the minute, so you can walk out and get on without wasting your time. The J runs on headways ranging from 6 minutes to an hour if you're unlucky, and you never know what you're going to get. If you count the headway variation, your odds of getting anywhere on the J in 15 minutes are nil.

Brian Goldner said...

there are so many reasons why googleplex works best where it is:
1. it's in the "silicon valley", and is really close to the intellectual center/stanford univ. that spawned google in the first place
2. tons of space needed for servers

also, im not 100% sure of this, but isn't googleplex somewhat near the VTA light rail and/or caltrain?

also, this article is a tad on the whine-y side

Jonlin said...

Yeah Silicon Valley sucks at mixed-use development. I rode the VTA from Mountain View to Downtown San Jose on the day after Thanksgiving, and there were practically no riders, as it just passed the empty campuses of Yahoo, Ebay, Cisco, etc.

Pedestrianist said...

Comments that advocate private transit at the expense of public transit forget the subsidies that private transit like Google's shuttle enjoys.

Por ejemplo, if Google had to pick every EN worker up at their house (a la school bus) rather than at the two-four BART station, they wouldn't be offering regular service. The 48, 14, 49, etc that feed those workers to 24 and Mission so they can take the private shuttle to all the heavy lifting don't get any money from Google to operate that service. It's corporate welfare

Anonymous said...

isn't every1 forgetting that it's not necessarily Google's fault taht its workers don't live in Mountain View? I mean, a lot of them don't even live in the South Bay. It probably has less to do with the availability of affordable housing for them, and more to do with the fact that their workers WANT to live in SF. Heck, I bet even if Googleplex was in SF, there'd still be a lot of workers who wanted to live elsewhere, say the South Bay, and maybe Google would be nice again by offering to give them a fast and convenient ride. Pedestrianist, you're also forgetting two things: 1) the workers subsidize Muni themselves since they live in SF (and Google probably does too in some way with Google Transit) and 2) who says workers even take the bus to the Mission? Maybe they walk or bike there, or even drive. Heck, if they did ride Muni at least they'd be adding to ridership and fares.

Seriously tho, Google may be starting to show some flaws, and maybe it's harder for them to live up to their no evil motto, but this is hardly a case of something that's their fault.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

That's kind of the point anon above this post. Sure they can locate anywhere, heck they can stay in Mountain View, but why not locate near the Caltrain stop instead of on the other side of the freeway.

PS. Google transit is not a subsidy. It's helpful for sure, but Transit Agencies spend some money and time getting their schedules out in a way that google can use it. It's more often than they put out schedules before because it has to be on a certain time frame or the agency gets kicked out.

njh said...

Something I like about working for Adobe is both our bay offices are near transport hubs (diridon and caltrain SF). It also great that we get free passes on public transport - the management really gets it. They often mention PT as an option for big events and on joining, employees are encouraged to plan for transport.

I never understood the american 'schoolbus' thing. That's got to be unhelpful for getting kids to grow up with PT. In australia kids go on normal buses. When they leave school they already understand buses.

Wht frustrates me about google is that they could improve PT _for everybody_ by encouraging their employees to use PT and simultaneously pushing for (and subsidising) PT. Instead, they actually make PT worse by a) giving the impression that PT is not suitable for professionals, b) reducing the number of people who use the service (making it less viable), c) reducing the mixing of different groups (important in reducing crime and increasing social capital) d) not using their great influence to improve the system.

All because they are worried about information leakage.

Rhywun said...

> After seeing Google's campus, I can't
> imagine them having their "atmosphere"
> without their own campus. It doesn't work.

I could never work in such a place. I love being able to step outside the office and "mix" with the rest of the city (I work in the Wall Street area). "Campuses" are so sterile.

> I never understood the american 'schoolbus'
> thing.

It's because most American kids live in the suburbs where transit doesn't exist. Their parents drive everywhere for everything. Here in NYC kids mostly take public transit. I have never seen a school bus, except for private schools.