Gentrification & the Shuttle

A few weeks after I arrived at Berkeley as a freshman, I met a family friend for coffee in the Mission. He worked for Facebook at the time, and I wanted to know more about SF corporate culture. Coming from the Philadelphia area, I wanted to know if the rumors that nobody starts work before 10 AM were true. At first he laughed, but then he lowered his voice and leaned in closer. He then described how he starts working at 8:30 while on the Facebook shuttle, as the shuttle is equipped with high-speed WiFi.

Inside a Facebook shuttle. Image courtesy of NYMag.

Clearly I was missing something. What’s so scandalous about WiFi? I asked why he was speaking in hushed tones, and he began to describe gentrification to me — a term I had never heard before. PBS defines gentrification as “a general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, a related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the district’s character and culture.” In the Bay Area, these “wealthier people” are often employees of large tech firms. The Guardian reports that the private equity firm Trion explicitly advertises their Redwood City Buckingham Apartments to “young working professionals,” especially those employed at “Google, Facebook, and other Fortune 100 tech companies.”

I was still confused. What does gentrification have to do with the bus? He explained that in the Bay Area, buses that shuttle employees to tech companies like Facebook and Google have come to symbolize displacement and the housing crisis. The general criticism is that wealthy techies move into the area, driving rent up and low-income families out. Then, the techies can’t be bothered to take the same public transit as everyone else — they even have their own exclusive shuttles.

According to The Guardian, Facebook incentivizes workers to live within a 10-mile radius of the Palo Alto headquarters with $10k to $15k bonuses. Ironically, some speculate that the incentive program is designed to reduce costs of the shuttle service. If this is true, Facebook is cutting costs on a symbol of gentrification, the shuttle, in order to more directly promote gentrification through displacement.

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