What the 'Google Bus' has taught us?

Posted on August 29, 2013 by Brian Antolin

Earlier this summer residents of several neighborhoods in San Francisco took to the streets, protesting the network of “Google Buses,” or private commuter shuttles contracted by tech companies, operating from the Bay area to Silicon Valley. The name “Google Bus” became the moniker for similar services offered by other companies because of the scale and scope of Google’s operation. The issue these residents had went beyond the concept of transportation for reverse commuters or the use of buses. Rather, their argument involved the size, scope and effect of these buses on their neighborhoods.    

The service began in the early 2000s, as Google and other tech companies sought different ways to cater to their workforce. The service not only allowed employees an easier commute, it also enabled greater productivity en route to and from work with Wi-Fi and power outlets.

In 2007, according to a New York Times article by Miguel Helft, the Google shuttle network stretched from Concord in the north to Santa Cruz in the south and served approximately 1,200 people. A blog post from Transportation Nation earlier this summer mentions that these private networks (for most major tech companies, not just Google) transport approximately 14,000 people from San Francisco alone. They also note that these private bus networks have at least one stop in virtually every neighborhood in the city.   

Demand for services
Why was there such a drastic increase in demand for these services? As competition for talent to these companies intensified, these private transport networks evolved as well. The reason for this was two-fold: it served as a tool to recruit millennials who wanted to live in the city and connected the remote locations of these companies to the vibrant tech and start-up community fostered in the city. In turn, the value they presented to their workforce and future employees was that they could work for the  companies and stay connected to the urban lifestyle they desired.  

While providing the mobility for these young professionals to work in Silicon Valley and live in the city, the socioeconomic landscape of neighborhoods in San Francisco began to change. Longtime residents were priced out of rent-controlled homes, while more and more Silicon Valley employees moved in. With the emerging shift in population came more buses to shuttle them to work. Soon, these neighborhoods had two to three buses on each block lined up to serve the reverse commuters.  While loading commuters, these buses often blocked city transit vehicles operated by Muni, another contention of both residents and city officials.  In essence, the coaches became a symbol of the divide between the haves (Silicon Valley employees) and have not’s (longtime residents).

Catalyst for economic growth

While the “Google Bus” phenomenon cannot be replicated directly in size, scope and effect everywhere, the methods for their success can. First, the “Google Buses” have reinforced the fact that transportation is a catalyst for economic growth. By mobilizing people to work, the areas where they commute to and live stand to benefit. Second, methods of transport must also be agile enough to adapt to how and why people travel. Fueled by companies seeking to meet the changing needs of their employees, these private networks thrive on flexibility in operation and managing its scale.

Finally, this movement solidifies the fact that the future of transportation and technology as industries are intertwined. Each industry focuses on mobility either directly (transportation) or indirectly (technology), thereby creating synergies around movement. How we develop solutions that leverage both the power of technology and transportation, while meeting the changing demands of customers ultimately provides the key to our future.

Brian Antolin is a transportation and travel industry consultant who recently launched CoTo Travel, a transportation service for prospective college students. He is also the author of Traveling on a Layover, a blog on travel and transport issues.  You can read more at: http://travelingonalayover.blogspot.com/ 

Twitter Link: https://twitter.com/BrianFAntolin

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "Transit service planning vital to community, ridership growth"

View comments or post a comment on this story. (1 Comment)

More Transit Dispatches Blog Posts

February 6, 2015

Technology and Transportation: Change at High Speed

As the world changes with the rapid advancement of connected devices and technologies, so must the transportation industry. In a business area where change is sluggish, DOTs across the country must adapt quickly to the evolving technologies that are going to impact their operations and budget. There are at least three technologies that will have immense impact over the next two decades on how we travel and how state transportation departments react to provide mobility — connectedness, big data and automation.

January 26, 2015

Tapping Transit Hubs as Inspirational Art Spaces

Around the world, artwork of all forms adorns transportation centers, stations and bus shelters. While many of these statues, paintings, mosaics and sculptures are permanently installed as part of a station’s architecture, transportation organizations can use their spaces for art exhibitions that not only make transit hubs more aesthetically pleasing for commuters, but also inspire budding artists. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) recently partnered with two organizations to showcase the artistic talent of youth from the Greater Philadelphia region and around the world. 

December 15, 2014

Lost and Found on Public Transit and Hopefully Reunited

One might think with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and passengers carrying more packages than usual on buses, trains and trolleys, transit organizations’ lost and found departments could be busier than usual. For large authorities like the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the lost and found bins are often full throughout the year, not just during the Christmas season.

December 5, 2014

Time is On Our Side With Automated Vehicles

A man climbs into the cab of a tractor trailer, hauling himself into the massive driver’s seat and shutting the door behind him as if settling into a captain’s chair.

The steering wheel is massive, evoking the wheel of a mighty sailing ship even at it protruds from a dashboard covered in electronic controls and sleek digital displays. The driver engages the engine and, with a few button presses, the truck rumbles to life.

Watching the scenery pass by out the driver’s side window

November 20, 2014

Engaging Young Riders is Key to Transit’s Continued Growth

The number of younger people getting drivers’ licenses has continually declined since 1996 and that adults between the ages of 20 to 30 are more likely to stay in cities rather than move to suburbs, according to the United States Public Interest Research Group. This data, then, would indicate that the millennial generation (the largest generation) is a major contributor to the surge in ridership transportation organizations across the country are experiencing.
See More

Post a Comment

Post Comment

Comments (1)

Please sign in or register to .    Close