San Francisco's plan to legalize the armada of tech buses has sailed past its last regulatory hurdle. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency voted today to approve increased fees charged to tech companies for using city bus stops, as part of its controversial shuttle pilot program.

According to KQED News, SFMTA raised the per-stop fee charged to shuttle operators from $1 up to $3.55. The fee was increased for two reasons. Residents demanded fewer city stops be included in the pilot program, which means there would be less revenue coming in, and the projected administrative costs were higher than anticipated.

Carli Paine, the manager for the SFMTA pilot program, said providers are making about 40 percent fewer stops than initial estimates suggested.

Paine said the fees will cover the program's fixed costs and will be spread over 2,449 stops, well under the 4,121 stops originally estimated. [...]

The total estimated program cost is expected to be $3.7 million, more than the January estimate of $1.7 million.

When the program was initially proposed, local activists complained that tech companies were being charged too little. But raising the fee by 255 percent hasn't seemed to placate the protesters. According to San Francisco Chronicle transit reporter Michael Cabanatuan, who covered today's SFMTA board hearing, they still feel like their voices have been unheard.

Those critics are proceeding with a lawsuit, challenging the luxury shuttle program on environmental grounds. But it's unlikely that the suit will prevent the pilot from going forward: Google buses are slated to begin rolling legally through San Francisco on August 1st.

[Photo: Ryan Blauvelt]