By this time next year, Uber and Lyft passengers in San Francisco will be paying a new surcharge on every trip if voters approve a deal cut in a North Beach restaurant by Supervisor Aaron Peskin and representatives of the ride-hail giants.
The goal is to raise $30 million a year to deal with traffic congestion, brought on in large part by the ride services themselves.
“The ride-share companies pay some through their business taxes, but everyone has to be a part of the solution, particularly given that we can’t cap the number of ride-share cars on our streets,” Peskin said.
Although, truth be told, it will probably be the passengers — not the companies — who pay the new tax.
Here’s the story:
For several years, the popular ride services have been adding thousands of cars to the city’s already clogged streets.
An October 2018 report by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority estimated that ride hails accounted for up to half of the increased traffic congestion downtown between 2010 and 2016.
City Hall explored various ways to reduce the number of rides, but those efforts went nowhere, in large part because the ride-hail companies are regulated by the state, leaving the city with little power to set rules.
So, Peskin decided to at least try to get the city some money to help alleviate the traffic snarls.
And he used the oldest trick in the book: the threat of going to voters with a tax hike on the companies’ bottom lines. In this case a hike in their gross receipts tax.
And while polling showed the companies had a shot at beating back such a tax increase, the campaign would likely cost them millions.
So a sit-down was convened in July, at the Piazza Pellegrini restaurant on Columbus Avenue, among Peskin; his chief of staff, Sunny Angulo; Uber representative Davis White; David Noyola, a former Peskin staffer now working for Uber; and representatives from Lyft.
Over plates of antipasto, a deal was struck that would allow the city to impose a 3.25 percent charge on single rides and a 1.5 percent charge on “carpool share” rides.
In return, the ride-hail companies got a guarantee that the money would be used for traffic-congestion relief. They also wanted the lower rate for pooled rides.
The two sides also agreed that while the city would collect the tax, it would be up to Uber and Lyft to decide how they would structure a potential pass-through to customers. The charges would also apply to autonomous vehicles, if they ever get to the point of offering rides for money.
Mayor London Breed is on board as well.
“This measure will provide funding to improve our public transportation system and reduce the congestion,” Breed said.
Peskin plans to introduce a ballot measure to the Board of Supervisors in May and hopes to get their unanimous support to put it before voters in November.
The measure would need a two-thirds majority of city voters to pass, but given the support of the mayor and the ride companies, the surcharge will likely have little organized opposition.
Lyft didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Uber spokesman White said, “We look forward to working with city and state officials to ensure a successful campaign in 2019.”
And with all of the big players on board, chances are it will be.
Newsom on tour: No sooner did Gov. Gavin Newsom declare a moratorium on the death penalty in California than he was on a plane to the East Coast for a series of national media appearances, including stops at CBS, NPR and MSNBC.
“He’s making the case as a leader to hearts and minds, just as he did with marriage equality, when his willingness to go out on a limb made a huge difference,” Newsom political spokesman Dan Newman said.
With, they hope, better results this time.
Many Democrats still feel the national blowback from Newsom’s same-sex marriage revolution was one of the reasons Democrat John Kerry lost his bid to unseat George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election.
And now Newsom is making the death penalty a national issue.
One thing’s for sure, with just three months on the job, Newsom is already on his way to being the best-known governor in the nation.
Fire pick: San Francisco Mayor London Breed was given the names of five candidates to replace outgoing Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, and when the choice got down to two, the lobbying began in earnest.
The firefighters union led the charge, asking all of their political allies, including former mayor and now Gov. Gavin Newsom to pitch a call to Breed in favor of Deputy Chief Jeanine Nicholson.
Truth be told, it wasn’t that hard of a sell.
After more than 20 years of rising in the ranks — paramedic, firefighter, battalion chief and then deputy chief — Nicholson had the support of the Fire Commission, the rank and file and Hayes-White.
In fact, Nicholson’s selection is just about the only thing that the firefighters union and the outgoing chief have agreed on in years.
One group that wasn’t completely sold on the pick was the Black Firefighters Association, which feels that black men have been underrepresented on the department’s command staff.
Nicholson, however, appears ready to face the challenges that come with the job.“I love working to bring calm to chaos,” she said. Nicholson lives in Berkeley and plans to move to the city, not that she will have to worry about finding an affordable place to live. The Fire Department has its own four-bedroom chief’s residence on Bush Street.