A Silicon Valley tech shuttle bus on San Jose Avenue in San Francisco. There are an estimated 1,020 private commuter shuttles
A Silicon Valley tech shuttle bus on San Jose Avenue in San Francisco. Today, there are an estimated 1,020 private commuter shuttle buses in the Bay Area. Photos: Mark Davis

Into the Valley

Inside a Secretive $250 Million Private Transit System Just for Techies

1,000 white-collar tech shuttles are stalling Bay Area public transit

OneZero
Published in
14 min readFeb 25, 2020

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This article is part of Into the Valley, a feature series from OneZero about Silicon Valley, the people who live there, and the technology they create.

InIn 2004, in the Glen Park neighborhood of San Francisco, an unmarked employee shuttle bus rolled up to the curb in front of a group of employees. The crowd was likely dressed in the uniform of tech workers: blue jeans and sneakers, with backpacks slung across their shoulders and headphone cables dangling from their ears. Onboard, the small group of tech workers would have settled down for their 80-minute journey to Google’s Mountain View headquarters, plugging cables into outlets and connecting their laptops to the in-bus Wi-Fi. The bus averaged 155 Googlers a day that year.

Thus began the era of the Silicon Valley tech shuttle bus. At the time, the BlackBerry was the hot handset, YouTube would soon be launched from a Menlo Park garage, and Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” topped the Billboard 100. Google was the first of many tech giants to launch tech shuttles. The following year, Yahoo and Electronic Arts introduced their own shuttle bus services from San Francisco to the peninsula — “the Pepsi to Google’s Coke,” jeered a reporter. Ebay introduced shuttle buses in 2007, Juniper Networks in 2008, and so on.

A close-up of the front part of a white tech shuttle bus. Many of the tech shuttles run on biodiesel and have no logos.
Many of the tech shuttles run on biodiesel and are black, blue, white, and gray, with no visible logos on the outside.

The buses improved employee quality of life, the companies said, and that of local residents; they eased congestion and were better for the environment. By 2008, 1,600 Googlers boarded 150 buses around the Bay Area daily, with drop-off points stretching from the foggy oceanside town of Santa Cruz to the city of Concord, located toward California’s hot and dusty Central Valley. “We are basically running a small municipal transit agency,” Google’s security and safety director told the New York Times in 2007.

In retrospect, this was peanuts. By 2014, more than 750 buses carted some 37,000 employees into the valley and…

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Zara Stone
OneZero

Tech+Culture f/lance journo. www.zarastone.net Bylines: OneZero, Marker, Atlantic, Forbes, etc. Author: The Future of Science Is Female https://bit.ly/stm202