San Francisco plans to start regulating employee shuttles for companies like Google, Facebook and Apple, charging a fee for those that use public bus stops and controlling where they load and unload.
The influx of private shuttle buses, which transport thousands of San Francisco workers to their jobs, has created traffic problems on the city's narrow streets, blocking public bus stops during peak commuting hours.
For some locals, these buses have become a tangible symbol of economic inequality and the aggressive wave of gentrification sweeping through large swaths of San Francisco and Oakland as a result of the burgeoning technology industry.
Protesters have blocked buses in the city's Mission District, a popular tech-employee neighborhood where the shuttles are prevalent. In Oakland, protesters broke the window of a Google shuttle bus.
Now, almost as if in response, the city of San Francisco has outlined plans to tax the tech companies if they want to continue offering their workers private transportation.
Mayor Ed Lee and other city leaders joined Google, Facebook, Apple and other companies Monday to announce an 18-month pilot program to charge a fee based on the number of stops each shuttle provider makes.
At $1 per day, per stop, the fees are intentionally low; they are limited by state law to cover only the costs of the pilot program. The mayor's office estimates it will bring in $1.6 million in revenue, all of which will be used to pay for the program.
Lee says the shuttles are here to stay, and that they actually reduce gridlock and pollution by removing thousands of cars from roads each day.
Critics and activists say they are just another example of the technology industry forcing San Francisco to offer up overly generous policies (including large tax breaks for companies like Zynga and Twitter).
"In recent years we've seen a wild, wild West on our streets," David Chiu, president of the city's Board of Supervisors, told The Associated Press. "This is an important first step in bringing some order and rules to our roads, as well as asking our companies to pay a fair share of what it costs the city to maintain our streets."
The program would mean that 200 of the city's 2,500 bus stops would be approved shuttle loading zones. Shuttle drivers would be ordered to yield to city buses, pulling to the front of bus stops to make room for other vehicles and avoiding steep and narrow city streets.
Google said in a statement that it is excited to work with the city to make transportation more efficient.
"We believe the pilot program is an important step in that direction," the statement said. "Google's Bay Area shuttles result in net annual savings of more than 20,000 metric tons of CO2. That's like taking about 4,000 cars off the road every day. "
The city's transportation board votes on the proposal Jan. 21.
Al Jazeera and wire services