$1 per Stop Will Keep the Angry Residents Away…Right?

Back in January, a reader has requested for me to give an update on the shuttle bus issue in San Francisco. Due to having just returned from a trip and my intention to ramp up on a new study, I had to put the update on hold.

In January, companies like Google and Apple decided that they will pay $1 for every stop they make. This will be part of a 18-month pilot program that starts in July 2014. This arrangement was agreed upon to help ease the tension within the city where protests against these shuttles have been taking place in the last several months. So, will the $1 per stop really help ease the tension?

What the tech companies and the city are not realizing is that the issue with the bus stops is more symbolic than it is an issue. Don’t get me wrong, it is an issue, but it has taken on as a symbol of the current cost of living crisis experienced by many residents in San Francisco.

According to Forbes, San Francisco has the steepest year-over-year rent increase (10.1% from last year) and the highest median rent in the country ($3250/month for a 2-bedroom unit). With the median income of $73,802 in San Francisco, residents should be able to afford the rent. Right? Wrong. Rather than just looking at the median income to evaluate whether the average Joe can afford to live in San Francisco, a more accurate way to assess the current situation is to look at income inequality.

If you look at income inequality in San Francisco, the city exhibits the 2nd greatest income equality between the top 95th-percentile household income ($353,576) and the bottom 20th-percentile household income ($21,313). According to the Brookings Institution, between 2007 to 2012, income for the 20th-percentile household in San Francisco dropped by $4,000, while the income for the 95th-percentile household climbed up by $28,000. This is the greatest increase in the whole country.

Inequality at this magnitude can foster displacement, resentment, and unrest. It is no surprise to see residents upset over these shuttles. These protests have become an outlet for residents to express their discontent towards the income inequality they experience living in the city.

Would $1 per stop end the issue? Would donating $6.8 million to fund free transit rides for San Francisco youth help? Why don’t we ask the immigrant family who have been recently forced to move, because they can no longer afford to live in the Mission District as a result of gentrification? We won’t, because we know the real issue cuts deeper into the socioeconomic realities that many people are currently facing in the Bay Area.

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