Vouchers, Mutatis Mutandis

Protestors blocked a Google bus in San Francisco. Google uses private buses to transport employees to its campus, but critics have an oddly familiar complaint.

Foes say the buses jam up municipal bus stops and remove potential customers from cash-strapped public transportation systems, including regional rail service, that could use their revenue.

In this context, the critique sounds even less compelling.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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14 Responses to Vouchers, Mutatis Mutandis

  1. Troublesome Frog says:

    I’ve never seen a bus stop “jammed up” with buses. Ever.

  2. In the Puget Sound region, Microsoft does something very similar, and faced very similar complaints. Their response was simply that King County Metro buses do not go where MS employees live, and Metro was not interested in putting convenient routes to those places, so exactly how was the private bus competing with Metro, since Metro was not getting revenue from those people anyway?

    If I recall, Google experiences the same thing in the Bay Area.

    And when I say convenient, I mean a route that gets the employees from A to B in a timely fashion. Metro buses tend to follow circuitous routes. If my wife was to take the bus from our house to her work 10 miles away, she’d spend over an hour on the bus, versus 20 minutes in a car.

  3. Dr X says:

    Quidquid latine dictum, altum videtur

  4. James Hanley says:

    Troublesome Frog,

    Then you’ve never lived in San Francisco, at least not along the 30 Stockton route.

    More seriously, nobody is supposed to stop in San Fran bus stops except municipal buses, so even if they’re not jamming up the stops, there is an issue there. Not a protest-worthy issue, to be sure, but something Google should negotiate with the city.

  5. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Thanks, MRS. That’s a nice succinct analysis.

    For those who don’t know San Fran, in many part of the city parking is at a premium. Many’s the time I parked illegally on a corner because that’s the only space I could find. And it wasn’t too terribly uncommon to be waiting at a bus stop that had a car parked in it. So that $271 fine is primarily there to deter parking in bus stops, which could mean somebody ran into the corner store to buy a gallon of milk and was back in a couple minutes or somebody parked there while they went to their friend’s party that lasted for hours. To apply it to a transit service that is using it more-or-less as intended, albeit for private service rather than public service, and moving on as quickly as possible kind of beggars the purpose.

    And many San Francisco buses are jam-packed. Taking riders off them through a private transit service is arguably a public service. And since the public transit service is heavily subsidized, adding thousands of new riders would likely impose more costs on the system than it would provide revenues.

    Finally, a great read on private vs. public transit systems is a chapter in Hernando de Soto’s The Other Path, which examines why private transit systems have so successfully competed against the public systems in Lima, Peru. Not necessarily directly transferable to the case of public transit in more developed countries, but still a good and insightful read.

  6. Troublesome Frog says:

    Josh Barro deserves far more exposure than he gets. He’s usually pretty well on the mark, and this is no exception.

    He makes an interesting point about the price of metered parking in SF or any big city. I wonder what the actual market price would be if there was a good way to privatize it (maybe auction it off one side of a block at at time with rules about how many adjacent blocks one entity can own). Surely well above the metered price, given that finding an open street parking space is like winning the lottery. The fact that the city actually makes more money if you *don’t* feed the meter might affect how they decide on a pricing scheme. It almost doesn’t matter how low you go as long as you keep the spaces full and maximize the chance that you can ticket somebody.

    Barro is right that the protestors are clearly just upset that housing in SF is expensive. As usual, the solution is depressing: try to eliminate the prosperity that has a side effect of driving up housing prices. If only we could all be so poor and desperate that land in SF was given away for free! Shanty towns are where it’s at!

  7. J@m3z Aitch says:


    Don’t the poor deserve to live in San Francisco, too?

    More seriously, I think part of the problem is seeing San Francisco as an individual city, rather than as an urban center. I always got irritated at the SF Chronicle’s insistence on capitalizing San Francisco as “the City,” but there is a point there. In London, “the City” (or so I understand) refers to the core, not the entire city. In regards to San Francisco, the entire Bay Area is urban, in many respects a single large city, with SF as its core. And who complains that everyone should be able to afford to live in London’s “the City” as opposed to outer districts?

    I think the biggest problem, though, is just that traditional neighborhoods are changing, and the ones being negatively affected are the less well off, and, well, aren’t they the ones always getting screwed, and so therefore we know this is a bad thing.

  8. I grow weary with such complaints. The less well off complain that their city is too expensive, but refuse to move out of it because they’ve lived there forever or they just love the vibrancy of the city & enjoy it’s cultural benefits, etc.

    I can feel some sympathy for those who bought/moved in when the market was low & are being priced/taxed out of the area, but just a little. My lack of sympathy is born of the fact that the vibrancy & culture they so enjoy are paid for (through increased taxes & philanthropic donations) by the very people who are moving in & raising the prices. Without those people, without that money, SF would not be what it is today.

  9. lukas says:


    In London, “the City” refers to the square mile within medieval city limits (or the roughly co-extensive CBD). Only a few thousand people live there anyway, so I do not think this is comparable to the whole of SF.

    There are, of course, plenty of complaints about people being priced out of central neighbourhoods, but in the City itself, that process has been complete for so long as to no longer be a concern.

  10. Matty says:

    For an added complication the British press can also use “The City” to refer to financial firms, in the same way an American might talk about Wall Street.

  11. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Lukas–Thanks for the clarifier.

    Matty–Thanks for the un-clarification.

  12. trumwill says:

    Doesn’t “City” in London have a different meaning then elsewhere, given that City of London and London are two different entities (albeit one contained inside the other)?

  13. Troublesome Frog says:

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