If you live in the SF Bay Area, you’ve no doubt seen the “Google Bus” or one of it’s clones serving a rival company. They coast up and down the major freeways, carting company employees from the main campuses of the tech giants to the neighborhoods in San Francisco, Oakland, etc, where those employees live. At first glance it seems like a good idea, and a way to keep the already congested roads from getting more congested. However, you do start to notice that the buses and their drivers – somewhat ironically – muscle their way into carpool lanes and drive as they please.
The other, perhaps more pernicious thing, is the effect that this has had on real estate costs in the area. The well-paid tech company employees are no longer limited by considerations of proximity to work, and so they move to the desirable spots and live there, driving up the costs of rent, and mortgages. Look here to see how much that ends up being. This has lead to protests, blocking of the buses and a general backlash against the tech workers, and, to a lesser extent, their employers. This is the local face of the currently widening gap between the wealthy and everybody else. However, it’s a spurious face.
In the Bay Area, there are a good number of financial firms, banks, brokerages etc. However their employees are few, they choose to live where “rich” folks live (mainly in the N. Bay) and they are unobtrusive. They don’t have the easily identifiable features that the tech workers being disgorged from their buses do, but they have a similar effect on real estate prices. There’s also the fact that the tech workers are pretty much doing what young people have done for the last 40 or 50 years: hear about how awesome SF is, decide to move there and do what they love. They only difference is that they’re employed in well paying jobs. So why should they get a bad rap? It seems to me that the real issue is that the gap just keeps getting wider, with less opportunity to move up. The City, County and State no longer depend on business to pay a fair share of property taxes (thanks Prop 13) and so it falls squarely on residents to shore up the tax base. You can guess who they’d rather have living here.
So what can we do as engaged residents (full disclosure: I work for a tech firm, but we don’t have a bus or any sort of awesome perks beyond getting paid more than the median)?