Skip to main content

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Even if you're 40 miles away from the most prime of real estate in Silicon Valley, your rent isn't safe. Residents of San Francisco, many of them working class, found that out the hard way as leagues of upper-class Google employees emigrated to their neighborhoods and started pricing them out.

This movement of highly paid tech employees toward the San Francisco Bay Area - about an hour commute northwest of Silicon Valley - is facilitated by the service of private shuttles like those owned by Google. Huge white buses, sleek-looking with darkly tinted windows, ferry several thousand Google employees back and forth each day, stopping at select public bus stops to do so. In turn, rent prices around those stops have exploded.

Within walking distance of the bus stop on Dolores and 30th Street in the Bay Area, rent prices for a one-bedroom apartment increased by 43% since 2010. Look a few miles north to the bus stop at Divisadero and Haight Street, and you'll see a slightly better price range—walking distance apartments have only jumped 28%.

That's according to University of California Berkley graduate student Alexandra Goldman, who authored a paper on the gentrification effects of Google buses for her master's of city planning degree. Goldman said she used a contact at PadMapper to look into the history of 64,000 rental listings.

And residents are not happy.

Guerilla protests by San Francisco denizens are simmering toward a boil. According to The Guardian, a Google bus window was smashed at Christmastime across the Bay in Oakland. In the city of Berkley, a protest group calling itself the Counterforce blocked a Google employee's driveway on January 22, accusing him of creating spy techniques and "war robots" for the military, according to the Los Angeles Times.

While Google is taking the brunt of the blame, it's not just Google sending private shuttles. At least nine other companies, such as Apple, EA and Yahoo!, use shuttles to ferry between Silicon Valley and San Francisco as of 2009. However, Google seems to have the most employees using the service: according to another U.C. Berkley graduate student research paper, one written by Danielle Dai and David Weinzimmer, also in completion for a master's of city planning degree, about 7,000 workers use private shuttles. According to Goldman, 4,500 are employed by Google, which started the service in 2004.

There's no clear remedy for the problem. This summer, the city of San Francisco will impose a $1-per-stop fee for the shuttles under an 18-month pilot program. However that gesture only addresses the added congestion and traffic halts the shuttles bring about, not skyrocketing rent.

--Written by Craig Donofrio for MainStreet