Driving the Tech Elite to Work Is a Miserable, Thankless Job

Tech buses don't need anymore bad press. Their mere existence in San Francisco has been enough to make them the most hated bus system in America. But a new report is certain to drag their reputation down even further: companies are paying their bus drivers obscenely low wages and forcing them to work 15.5 hour days, six of which are unpaid.

The report from USA Today focuses of Facebook's shuttle bus drivers. In interviews, their operators describe the cut-rate pay and miserable work conditions they have to endure so Facebookers can have a cool, wifi-enabled ride to campus.

Facebook's drivers, who are contracted through the SFO Shuttle Bus Company, earn just $18 an hour—substantially less than $6,000 a month Facebook pays its high school interns.

And the drivers' situation is made worse by all the unpaid time they must spend at work. According to two of the drivers interviewed by USA Today, employees are "held hostage" for six hours in the middle of the day when the shuttles aren't running, with contractual obligations forcing shuttle operators to remain close to the bus's parking lot.

[Jimmy Maerina] says he makes $18 an hour for nine hours of driving. Each paycheck covers his family's basic living expenses — mortgage, utilities, health insurance, a modest contribution to a retirement account — but not much more.

"We are just barely making it," Maerina said.

The unpaid blocks are due to "split shifts" that are required of workers. Because Silicon Valley's tech shuttles only run before and after the normal work day, drivers have to chauffeur Facebook employees both during the morning and evening commutes.

"My day starts at 5:30 and ends at 11 o'clock in the morning. Then we come back in the afternoon at 5 o'clock and ends at 9."

"This split shift is really killing us. I have a six hour split in-between [shifts] and I don't know what to do with myself during that time."

The drivers are not supposed to sleep on the techie comfort coaches between shifts. So many shuttle bus drivers resort to sleeping in their own cars, covering their vehicles to get some shade.

Facebook hasn't completely turned a blind eye to the plight of their bus operators. The $191 billion company recently agreed to chip in an extra 75 cents per hour for the drivers.

"That doesn't even buy you a soda," one driver said. "It's not good."

Despite their raise, the operators are still forced to abide by arbitrary rules:

With heavy traffic and tight schedules, drivers say they rarely have time to take a break, not even to take a sip of water — which they are not permitted to drink on the bus — or to go to the bathroom.

Loading your employees up with perks while your drivers sleep in their cars probably doesn't come as a surprise. Silicon Valley's top blowhards have been quick to criticize public transportation workers fighting for wage increases in the past. Why would they behave any differently on their own campus?

Screenshot: USA Today