Tech buses aren’t the only shuttles causing concern for San Franciscans these days. In the Outer Sunset, regular shuttles transporting locals to and from casinos outside the city have begun to cause tension with some residents—and the city is considering stepping in to regulate them, much as they have with tech shuttles.
The buses largely cater to Chinese and other Asian populations in the Bay Area, where they pick up and drop off numerous Asian passengers, largely elderly, who are looking to gamble. That's not an issue in the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, but in the quieter precincts of the Outer Sunset, some neighbors are furious about noise, trash, and other issues caused by the influx of shuttles.
In June 2015, Outer Sunset resident Lennie Yan began seeing shuttle buses to Geyserville's River Rock Casino pull up on a daily basis near her home at 36th and Noriega. Since then, she says, she and her neighbors have seen traffic accidents, increased littering, and property damage.
"We've noticed an increase of litter at that corner, and passengers are urinating in the trees, and tossing cigarettes on the sidewalk,” she told us.
Former resident Carol Eisenberger also had concerns about the buses. Though Eisenberger now lives in Israel, she sent letters voicing her concerns to District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang in both August and October, which she shared with us.
“I was stunned when I first saw so many strangers hanging around my house, on both sides of 36th Avenue at Noriega Street," she wrote in her August letter to Tang. While waiting to be picked up, casinogoers could be found "standing in front of and sitting directly on my front garden brick wall retainer ... eating and drinking and then throwing all of their garbage and cigarette butts into my front garden."
Photos sent by Carol Eisenberger in a letter to Supervisor Katy Tang.
Multiple casino companies run shuttle buses within San Francisco and the Bay Area, and almost all of them make stops in the Sunset. Thunder Valley's buses pull up at 20th and Noriega, while Graton Resort & Casino has pickups all along 18th, stopping at Noriega, Irving, and Taraval. In addition to the disputed stop at 36th and Noriega, River Rock's bus makes stops along 19th, at Winston, Taraval, and Irving.
Each casino contracts its pickups to third-party bus companies; River Rock, the source of Yan's complaint, uses Sanmo Travel. “Some neighbors have called the bus companies directly, and they basically said they will not relocate," Yan said. "They say that SFMTA said they can use that location, despite all the complaints from neighbors already."
A River Rock Casino Express bus at 36th and Noriega. (Photo: Lennie Yan)
With no specific regulations regarding the casino buses, the SFMTA's hands are tied. “The City of San Francisco does not have a permit program for casino buses at this time," public relations officer Ben Jose told us. "Any vehicle may operate on any unrestricted street, or use any legal curb space."
With that said, "the agency has received complaints about a few specific locations. The SFMTA takes these concerns seriously, and follows up directly with the casino bus provider on specific complaints.”
Supervisor Tang's legislative aide, Wilson Ng, assured us that she was “very aware” of the situation, and that her office is working with the SFMTA to find a solution for neighbors' frustrations regarding the casino bus pickups.
“We’ve heard them loud and clear. This is something we definitely want to address and find a better location," said Ng. “We’re looking at both private and public structures, possibly a private partnership.”
“I hope that SFMTA will craft a comprehensive solution to address casino buses citywide given the impacts on residents where these casino buses pick up and drop off passengers,” Tang said in a later statement. “My hope is that there will be regulations and structure similar to other privately operated shuttles in the City so that there can be better oversight and accountability of their operations.”
But while everyone agrees that the buses are an issue, no timeline has been set for moving them, and a long-term solution is not yet in place. In the meantime, neighbors with concerns "are more than welcome to contact our office," said Ng. "We do want to know how it’s impacting our neighbors, and we are urging the SFMTA to come up with a citywide solution. We want them to address the issue—not just the two stops that are in our district.”For Yan, a new plan for the buses can't come quickly enough. “Residential neighborhoods do not have stops for these large buses to pull over safely," she said. "All of this is getting worse for the neighborhood.”
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