Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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Tech-Shuttle Giant Given the Boot in San Francisco

Teamsters block a Bauer's IT shuttle in San Francisco.

Citing a history of disregard for traffic laws and acrimonious labor disputes, San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency has declined to grant tech shuttle operator Bauer's IT a permit to use public bus stops under the city's controversial Commuter Shuttle Program. Bauer's IT is one of San Francisco's largest tech bus operators, accounting for 10 percent of the city's commuter shuttle pickups. Bauer's IT clients include major Bay Area tech companies such as Twitter, Yelp, Salesforce, and Cisco.

Does this mean the Twitterati will be tweeting from BART like the rest of us? Not exactly.

According to a "notice of permit denial" sent from the SFMTA to Bauer's yesterday, the company repeatedly broke the law by sending large buses down "weight-restricted streets" and stopping at locations not designated for private buses. It also failed to inform the city of ongoing labor disputes with the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, whose complaints of illegal union busting practices at the company are being heard by the National Labor Relations Board. The Commuter Shuttle Program requires participating companies to maintain "labor harmony."

In 2013, tech shuttles, a.k.a. "Google buses," became potent symbols of inequality and gentrification in the Bay Area after it emerged that the posh private vehicles were illegally using public bus stops to pick up workers. The following year, the city launched a pilot program that allowed the companies to use the stops legally for a nominal fee. That program becomes permanent next month, but requires participating companies to reapply for permits. Bauer's IT could not be reached for comment.

"The SFMTA is enforcing what the City and County of San Francisco is famous for: Recognizing employees' right to be represented and right to and fair wages and benefits," said Rome Aloise, the director of Teamsters Joint Council 7, which represents drivers in Northern California. "Bauer's seems to be just disregarding all of that."

Does this mean the Twitterati will be tweeting from BART like the rest of us? Not exactly. Bauer's IT has 15 days to file an appeal, and can then continue to use its stops until the city makes a final decision.

A disruptive smartphone app turned Uber into a $50 billion global juggernaut. Now a group of disgruntled Uber drivers, with the help of their own smartphone app, aims to kneecap the car-hailing service precisely when and where it will be most in demand: Super Bowl Sunday in the Bay Area.

Striking drivers reportedly intend to slow traffic near the stadium and inundate the streets around crowded Super Bowl events.

For Uber, the stakes are high. The big game is in Santa Clara, about an hour from Uber's San Francisco headquarters. The company has chipped in $250,000 to $500,000 in cash and services to sponsor the Super Bowl Host Committee, according to Quartz. In return, it gets to be the first ride-sharing service allowed to access a Super Bowl game. It will even have exclusive pick-up and drop-off zones at the stadium—a coup for Uber's marketing department, assuming the company doesn't fall on its face.

And that's where Uber's labor problems may come back to haunt it. The drivers, who often make less than minimum wage, are angry because the company slashed fares nationwide over the past month. On Monday, several hundred of them protested at Uber's offices in San Francisco and New York.

The group behind the San Francisco protest, United Uber Drivers, has pledged to hold a massive strike on Super Bowl Sunday, and some Uber drivers in other cities have said they will do the same in solidarity. According to the industry publication Ride Share Report, the drivers intend to slow highway traffic near the stadium and inundate the streets around crowded Super Bowl events in San Francisco.

That might not be all. United Uber Drivers did not respond to emails from Mother Jones, but downloading the group's special iPhone app offers a bit more insight into its plans:

Other messages explain that when a push notification is received through the app, all drivers will be asked to go offline simultaneously, crippling Uber's network. "We need you to invite every Uber driver you know," urges the first message, written in November. "This communication technology will allow us to invite, unite and strike effectively without any fear or loss of the business relationship with Uber."

But that might be easier said than done. With an estimated 40,000 Uber drivers in the Bay Area, the group will need a lot of downloads to mount an effective strike. Of course, people said the same thing about some startup's harebrained bid to defeat the taxi industry. Uber proved them wrong.

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