Google to give SF poor youth free bus passes, in a nod to bus-stop controversy

Google is donating nearly $7 million so that 31,000 low-income San Francisco kids, ages 5 to 17, can ride the bus for free, the San Francisco Mayor’s Office announced Thursday, reported the Los Angeles Times. 

In a statement provided to Time and other media the Mountain View company acknowledged that its donation was in response to city residents’ frustrations with the corporate buses run by Google:

San Francisco residents are rightly frustrated that we don’t pay more to use city bus stops. So we’ll continue to work with the city on these fees, and in the meantime will fund MUNI passes for low income students for the next two years.

Until recently, corporate buses like Google’s used municipal bus stops without payment. A new deal would require the buses to pay $1 per use, an amount critics scoffed at. The buses are still under fire for their impact in neighborhoods and traffic. The bus controversy has been swept up in the bigger discussion about inequity in the city, with some housing activists complaining that tech workers and companies contribute to the growing eviction rate in the city.

Google’s donation, which would help pay for kids’ bus use for two years, should make a dent in the anti tech rhetoric. Mayor Ed Lee called it “one of the largest private contributions towards direct City services in San Francisco history.”

Google could have donated to many causes to try to win public goodwill. But the youth bus passes struck me as an act of poetic justice.

In one swoop, the company addressed the inequity issue by giving something directly to poor kids. It also, without saying so, pushed back on the critique that the company is not interested in the common good but only their own private transportation system.

The gauntlet has been thrown down. What will the next tech company do?

Above: Google bus protest courtesy of Michelle Ott.


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