A Convenient Scapegoat

When I first heard about protesters in San Francisco attacking Google buses, I laughed. It was the kind of news that sounded too ridiculous to take seriously. I had to double check to make sure I wasn’t reading the Onion. I figured it was a one-off event featuring a few hotheads, and that would be all there was to it.

I was soon proven wrong, as the Google bus protest ballooned into a city-wide fervor. I was even more shocked when I saw serious media outlets give platform to the most nonsensical rants against a benign ridesharing system. Even my beloved NPR let loose with a tirade against “techies” in San Francisco; a rant so filled with stereotypes that if it was made against any ethnic group, the speaker would have found his career immediately terminated.

The latest incarnation of anti-buses rants have gone a step further and tried to insult my intelligence, by suggesting that these shuttle buses are actually harming our city by disrupting traffic and underpaying for city services. They suggest that these buses should be paying $271 for every stop they make at a city bus-stop, in order to fairly compensate the city for the expense of using a bus-stop that’s just sitting there unused 95% of the time.

As someone who lives in San Francisco, I can only wonder what drugs these guys are on. $271 to stop by the sidewalk for a minute and pick up a few people? All over the roads, I see flashy BMWs, Mercedes and Porsches … and these protestors are picking on the shuttle riders?

I’ve seen all sorts of traffic problems in the city. I’ve seen cyclists in the middle of the road, slowing to a crawl all cars behind them. I’ve seen cars trying to parallel park on a busy road, and blocking off the entire lane for minutes in the process. I’ve seen taxis and cars stop by the sidewalk in order to pick up or drop off passengers, forcing all cars behind to careen around them. The one thing I’ve yet to see in all this time, are traffic problems caused by company shuttles. I’m not saying it never happens; but on the list of all traffic problems in the city, this ranks so far down the list to simply be inconsequential.

On the contrary, these shuttles represent everything that San Francisco has always stood for. Ride-sharing and taking mass-transit, even though you can afford to drive your own car. Wanting to live in the city, even though you work 40 miles away and there’s no practical reason to live here. Avoiding the materialism and consumerism associated with buying a car, and living a more frugal life. These shuttles have enabled countless people to live car-free lives. A fact that I’m always grateful for while circling around the Mission to find a parking spot.

Let’s be honest here. These protests against company shuttles have nothing to do with traffic problems. They are all about two of our most base emotions: fear and envy.

Fear that the tech rush is transforming this city, just like the gold rush did in centuries past. Fear that this influx of newcomers will price the regulars out of it. And envy that while the hipsters are struggling to make ends meet as tattoo artists, social workers and aspiring writers, these techies next door are making six figures and living the dream. Anyone who thinks that these shuttle protests are actually about transportation issues, is completely missing the point.

The first, I can sympathize with. I love San Francisco, and chose to live here, because of the amazing diversity of its people. I enjoy the rich experience of interacting everyday with people across the entire spectrum; techies, yuppies, party animals, starving artists and bleeding hearts. It’s what gives the city its character, and I want to help keep it that way.

I will march together with the protestors to demand better tenant protections and rent control legislation. I will march together with the protestors to demand more be done to keep cost-of-living low. Heck, I will even march together with the protestors to ask the city to tax the rich and provide a basic income to every long-time San Franciscan falling on hard times.

But as long as these protests keep obsessing over buses, it’s hard to think of the protestors as anything other than children throwing a tantrum. I want to help ensure that every San Franciscan can continue to make the city her home. But the envy problem though, that is something the protesters need to deal with on their own.

We claim to believe in a classless society – one where people are respected as individuals and aren’t judged by their wealth or social class. Now’s the time to show it.

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