- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - San Francisco officials have shot down environmentalists’ attempt to stall Google, Facebook and other tech giants from using public bus stops for private employee shuttles, despite concerns that Silicon Valley firms are getting preferential treatment over locals.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports (http://bit.ly/PhELs4) that transportation officials voted late Tuesday to deny an appeal, which said the city did not properly examine potential environmental impacts from the buses.

The shuttles, which transport thousands of city workers each day to Silicon Valley, have for some become a symbol of economic inequality, rising housing costs and evictions in San Francisco. Activists in clown suits surrounded a Google bus in San Francisco earlier Tuesday to draw attention to the hearing, and in recent months there have been other protests.

The city and companies say the shuttles remove thousands of vehicles from roads while reducing carbon pollution.

The Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored public policy group, hailed the decision.

“This is a victory for sensible transportation solutions, for easing traffic and reducing carbon emissions and for growing our economy,” said Jim Wunderman, Bay Area Council president in a statement released Wednesday. “Commuter shuttles provide an important transportation option for thousands of San Francisco workers, taking cars off of already congested roads and highways and avoiding harmful carbon emissions.”

City transportation officials approved a new pilot plan in January to regulate private employee shuttles operated by tech giants and charge a fee for the vehicles to use public bus stops.

The program, which would go into effect in July, would charge the companies $1 for each stop made by the shuttles. The city estimates medium-size companies would pay about $80,000 a year, with larger firms paying more than $100,000.

City officials say the 18-month program could reduce vehicle miles by about 45,000 and eliminate some 11,000 tons of carbon emissions.

Under California law, the city cannot profit from the program, so the fees are meant to recover the costs associated with administering and enforcing the program.

Operators will have to purchase permits from the city, which is designating 200 of its roughly 2,500 bus stops as shuttle stopping zones. The buses would be outfitted with GPS to help the city monitor their whereabouts, and they could receive citations for stopping at unapproved bus stops.

Opponents can still opt to go to court to stop the program.

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com