SAN FRANCISCO — Call it a corporate shuttle bus, without the corporation.
On Tuesday, a San Francisco company that runs luxury shuttles for the likes of Google and Yahoo started a new, weekday bus service connecting Marin County, San Francisco, and San Jose.
The buses will be the same kind of tricked-out rides that Bauer's Intelligent Transportation uses for its corporate clients, with padded leather seats, television screens, free Wi-Fi, and power plugs for laptops.
But they will be open to anyone who wants to pay the fare — $8.20 one way on most routes.
"We're trying to get people out of their Mercedes or Lexus, people who wouldn't ride public transit," CEO Gary Bauer said.
Each route will have just a handful of stops. To deal with the spread-out urban geography of the South Bay, the stops are located near prominent companies or transit hubs. The Sunnyvale stop, for example, is at North Mathilda and Fifth avenues, near Juniper Networks, Lockheed Martin, and a light rail station for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
The buses will have coffee and breakfast available for purchase, served by a "ride host" much like an airline flight attendant. A passenger can leave San Francisco's Ferry Building at 5:30 a.m., eat, watch the morning news, work on the laptop and arrive in Sunnyvale at 6:45 a.m.
"We want to encompass all that and make it one seamless transaction for you," Bauer said. "We're looking to give you back 10 hours of your life" each week.
The new bus service, called Wi-Drive, also will give San Francisco companies another way to comply with the city's new commuter benefits ordinance. The law, which took effect in January, requires businesses with 20 or more workers to reimburse employees for transit fares, offer them free shuttle service on company-funded vehicles, or set up a payroll deduction that lets them use pretax wages to purchase transit passes.
"It's a chic way of taking advantage of the ordinance," said San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. He wasn't thinking of high-end buses when he wrote the ordinance, but he said he's pleased to see businesses coming up with new ways to respond.
"I expected that new, emerging modalities would become part of the landscape," Mirkarimi said. "I welcome the creativity."
Rod Diridon, head of the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, said the bus lines were an interesting idea. But he questioned whether commuters willing to let someone else drive would choose the buses over Caltrain, which runs a similar route, costs less, and skips the Peninsula's crowded freeways.
"With auto congestion increasing all the time, I'm not sure how they're going to compete," he said.
Bauer is banking on the buses' amenities and atmosphere. The kind of customer his company is targeting, he says, isn't interested in the utilitarian buses and trains of existing mass-transit systems. In addition, Wi-Drive goes places that Caltrain and BART don't, such as Larkspur.
Right now, those people are driving to work, Bauer said, with their cars adding a little bit every day to global warming. If he can fill each 52-seat bus with former car commuters, each bus will prevent 1,310 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year, he said.
"We're not here to take people away from public transit," Bauer said. "We're not trying to step on anyone's toes. We want to complement what they do."
Wi-Drive customers who buy a fare receive a plastic card with a magnetic stripe on the back and a Web site address on the front. On the Web site, they can set up an account and prepay fares from their credit cards, as well as reserve seats. Buying a month's worth of rides lowers the price, to $7.38 one way on most routes.
The next time customers board the bus, they swipe their Wi-Drive card at the door, deducting the fare from their account.
To launch the service, rides will be free from March 3-6. The following week, Bauer's will offer half-price fares. Then on March 16, fares rise to their regular level.
If the service proves a success, Bauer's will expand it to such locations as Stockton, Fairfield, Napa and Santa Cruz.
For more details on the Wi-Drive service, go to bauerswi-drive.org
Source: San Francisco Chronicle