Yes, the Google Bus is affecting rental prices in San Francisco

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The Google bus riots were one of the most futuristic protests that the San Francisco Bay Area has ever seen. But is the protesters' rage against rich techies misplaced? According to one city planner, there is some truth to the idea that these shuttles raise rents.

The bus riots were complicated, but one issue that came to the fore was the idea that these shuttles for Google employees were making it harder for anyone but the super-rich to live in San Francisco and its environs. Plus, the huge, double-decker shuttles snarled traffic and made it hard for other residents to get to their jobs and use public buses. Googlers shot back that the buses make it easier for them to save energy and cut down on traffic because they don't have to drive to work.

While all these points are debatable, we can actually do research on whether there has been an appreciable rise in rents that is corollated with Google shuttle bus routes. And that's exactly what one researcher did.


City planner Alexandra Goldman wrote her masters thesis in City Planning at UC Berkeley last year on how corporate buses like the Google shuttles affect rental prices.

On Quora, she sums up her research:

My research suggests that rental prices within a walkable distance of these shuttles stops are rising faster (up to 20%) than the rental prices outside the walkable distance.


Goldman cautions that her research does not prove causality, and that there are many factors that can affect price escalation. Still, she continues:

It does provide evidence that the location of the shuttle stops has an impact on rental prices.

My research is consistent with other studies of the impact of transit investment on housing prices. Transit oriented development, policies that concentrate housing and commercial space around transit nodes, has been shown to increase rents within a half‐mile radius of the transit nodes.

Additionally, housing market economics demonstrate that as individuals' economic transportation burdens decrease (ie- free tech bus commute), their ability to pay for housing increases. Thus, if individuals are provided with free or reduced-cost transportation, they will be able to demand a higher bundle of housing services, and may force prices upward.


Additional evidence that being near a Google bus route is valuable comes from rental listings on Craigslist, where Goldman notes that proximity to a Google stop is often listed as a "perk."


Her charts at left show five stops along the Google Bus route in San Francisco, and the percentage that rental prices have changed nearby. Of course San Francisco rents are skyrocketing everywhere, but she writes that these rates are rising faster than in areas that aren't within walking distance of the shuttle stops.

Read Goldman's thesis on her website.