Tuesday’s column about the flood of Uber and Lyft cars on the streets of San Francisco triggered a tsunami of reader email and social-media outbursts. So I’m turning over today’s platform to my impassioned readers. The public is clearly reaching its tipping point on the out-of-control ride-hailing industry. The last time something like this happened, Airbnb cut a sensible deal with the city. So who knows? The boys-will-be-boys bro-ocracy at Uber might also finally accept some reasonable regulations.
“Thank you for bringing up the subject of traffic congestion caused by the hordes of unregulated, amateur drivers flooding San Francisco’s streets,” wrote Tom Lawless. “I am a small-business owner, a painting contractor, who lives in the Excelsior district. My painting projects are within the city limits, so I witness firsthand, and suffer, through godawful traffic every day. As a former cabdriver, the antics I see are maddening: the danger caused by drivers who are looking at a GPS device mounted on their dashboard and don’t know where they are going. I used to ride my bicycle much more in the city, but now I’m afraid of getting hit from behind or sideswiped by one of these drivers.” “My neighborhood, the Inner Sunset, has seen a big increase in near misses with pedestrians in crosswalks and the N-Judah blaring its horn at incompetent Uber drivers clogging up the street,” wrote Greg Dewar. “Last fall a dumb Uber driver got his side mirror clipped by the N when he made a turn. It was a nightmare — the long line of trains (backed up) and the residual delays continued all afternoon/evening. As always, the Muni took the crap for an Uber driver’s error.” “You didn’t mention the mess at SFO caused by the” transportation network companies, wrote Stephanie Rogers. “Because of all the TNCs clogging the approach to the airport, my daughter — with her 2-year-old and 4-year-old children and their bags — was forced to get out and walk to her terminal. They were the last to board their flight. I called SFO to complain and was told that the situation is in flux.” Hal Hughes’ one trip in a hapless Uber driver’s car made him wonder how the operators of ride-hailing vehicles manage to evade the same licensing and qualifications process that cabbies must undergo. “Our (Uber) driver was trying to pay attention to apps on two separate cell phones while negotiating the steep streets of Nob Hill. With the help of my son, who knows the city well as a former cabbie, the driver eventually managed to get us where we were going. It’s hard to imagine why neither (ride-hailing) drivers nor companies are subject to basic requirements for hauling passengers. Pretending their drivers are independent entrepreneurs, essentially just friendly citizens who want to help their neighbors while picking up some spare cash, strikes me as both a sham and a tax/license/liability dodge.” Christina Arrostuto also decried how government has been missing in action as the ride-hailing industry runs rampant. “As a longtime advocate of public transportation, I’m astonished that regulatory agencies would so thoroughly abandon their responsibility, let alone give a free pass to economically enslave a whole new class of workers with no benefits, no retirement, no paid Social Security and all their own expenses. These companies are luring desperate, out-of-work twentysomethings into servitude by locking them into leased vehicles they can’t afford, making it difficult for them to stop driving when they realize they can’t earn a profit after paying for gas, tolls, wear and tear, taxes, health insurance, etc. This happened to one of my nephews.” Uber and Lyft have a place on our streets, declared Joe Chang, but they shouldn’t be hogging the whole road. “Please let us know how we as San Franciscans can help drive some fairness into this market,” he wrote. “It is undeniable that Uber and Lyft offer a great service that many people depend upon. However, it’s also one we need to take a stern look at, and understand how to best bring safety and civic planning into this equation again. Market forces won’t solve this one — this is where government needs to intervene.” My column also provoked howls from those who thought I was unfair to the ride-hailing corporations. “The reason people take Lyft and Uber is because Muni and taxis suck,” stated Jamey Frank. “Neither are reliable nor convenient, especially for my disabled parents. We take (the TNC) cars rather than climbing down a filthy (Muni) staircase due to a broken escalator and elevator, to a filthy and dark platform and wait a random amount of time for a train. … The MTA’s policy is not solution-based. Instead, they prefer to punish people out of their cars through red lanes, road diets and parking confiscation, creating huge amounts of artificial traffic congestion. But no amount of driver punishment overrides the fact that San Francisco has one of the least reliable, least pleasant transportation systems in the world.” Speaking of solutions, Philip Macafee proposes a sensible new approach on his website, the Rideshare Justice Project (www.ridesharejustice.org). “The web, mobile devices and GPS location technology offer a great advance in secure, trustworthy and fair transportation,” he writes. “But only if implemented properly. States and municipalities need to step up to the plate by setting standards that blend the benefits of game changing new technology with time proven practices of reinforcing good behavior on the part of workers. (They also need to ensure) fair wages and safety for drivers. And they need to do it before the problem gets worse.” I like what he’s driving at.


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