San Francisco's love-hate relationship with rideshares spawning proposal to tax Uber, Lyft rides

ByKristen Sze and Jennifer Olney KGO logo
Thursday, April 4, 2019
San Francisco's love-hate relationship with rideshares spawning proposal to tax Uber, Lyft rides
The increase in traffic congestion caused by rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft is spawning a new proposal that would tax rides.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Let's face it - a lot of us have a love-hate relationship with rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. We love the convenience, but not all the extra cars, blocked traffic lanes, and continuing questions about whether drivers are fairly paid.

San Francisco has done extensive traffic studies that point to a major surge of rideshare cars at rush hour. That's no surprise to many residents, but Supervisor Aaron Peskin says the research "proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that at the peak of the morning and p.m. commutes, 50 percent of the congestion in downtown San Francisco is the result of Uber and Lyft."

RELATED: Civic analyst on the major impact ridesharing companies are having on Bay Area cities

Statistics from the San Francisco Police Department show during a three month period in 2017 Uber and Lyft drivers were responsible for nearly two-thirds of downtown congestion-related traffic violations.

There are certainly plenty of courteous rideshare drivers, but even if they obey the law, San Francisco estimates rideshares account for an incredible 570,000 miles driven on city streets each weekday.

"We just can't fit more cars on our streets" according to Ed Reiskin, Director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation. He says city streets are "already oversaturated."

Last August, those same concerns led New York to become the first city in the nation to approve a cap on the total number of vehicle licenses for rideshares, along with a minimum wage for drivers.

New York City Councilman Corey Johnson, a strong supporter of the laws, said "Just because you are a multi-billion dollar company, doesn't mean you shouldn't be regulated like everyone else"

New York's limit on rideshares is a one year experiment. The rest of the country is watching, but California cities considering the same thing cannot do it.

Peskin says he and city officials all over the state are frustrated because "local governments have no control over the transportation network companies, Uber and Lyft."

Under California law, cities and counties regulate taxis, but the state regulates rideshare companies. The agency making the rules is the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). That is the same commission that has drawn intense criticism for its regulation of PG&E.

RELATED: Building A Better Bay Area: Rideshare realities

Peskin called the commission's regulation of rideshares "an abject failure." He thinks the commission has not done enough to limit the impact of rideshares.

"They have been held captive by all of the corporations that they are supposed to independently regulate," he said.

The CPUC refused an on-camera interview, but a spokesman confirmed the commissioners are not considering a cap on the number of rideshare vehicles-- and said, "each city has authority to manage its traffic."

But remember the city does not have the power to limit the number of rideshare cars. In fact the city doesn't even know for sure exactly how many are on the streets.

Lyft has agreed to provide some information subpoenaed by the city attorney, but Uber has not. Neither company would talk with ABC7 News on camera.

"It's ironic they consider themselves to be part of the sharing economy, but they don't want to share their data with the public it's impacting," Reiskin said

The San Francisco City Attorney's office is working on a range of legal actions against Uber, Lyft and the state of California, aimed at getting more information about rideshares and allowing more local regulation.

While the legal fights drag on, Peskin is working with the San Francisco Mayor and Board of Supervisors on a possible per-ride tax on rideshares.

"We have very, very little control, but we can actually tax them," Peskin said.

RELATED: 'It's war': San Francisco cab driver describes competing with Uber, Lyft

The city can consider a rideshare tax because of a special law passed by the California legislature, but that law applies only to San Francisco.

In the next few weeks, Peskin plans to introduce a San Francisco ballot measure that would allow residents to vote on the per-ride fee. The exact details are still being finalized, but the proposal is expected to include a maximum 3.25 percent fee for a single ride and a 1.5 percent fee for carpool rides.

It's designed to bring in 30-million dollars for road improvements and more manpower to go after rideshare drivers flaunting traffic laws.

Peskin believes Uber and Lyft will support the plan, but neither company would confirm that until the language is finalized.

If all goes as planned, the rideshare tax will be on the ballot in November.

See full coverage on ridshare realities here, and more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area here.