Ridesharing companies that are growing in popularity in San Francisco have had unintended consequences and need to be better regulated, city supervisors were told today at a committee meeting on the issue.
Supervisor Eric Mar called for today’s hearing on businesses like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, which match riders to private cars via GPS-based smartphone apps and are defined by the California Public Utilities Commission as “transportation network companies.”
The companies have drawn increased attention from the city after an Uber driver struck and killed 6-year-old Sofia Liu on Polk Street on New Year’s Eve. They have also been sharply criticized by taxi drivers for operating under looser regulations than those required for cab companies and.
Christiane Hayashi, director of taxis and accessibility services for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said the TNCs require less comprehensive background checks than those for taxi drivers and do not provide cities with the number of cars they have out on the streets.
“It’s really starting to be a free-for-all out there,” Hayashi said. “So many vehicles are competing for business that it’s beginning to get quite dangerous.”
She said the companies are also operating under a gray area for insurance coverage when there is an accident.
In the case of Sofia’s death, Uber issued a statement saying the driver, 57-year-old Syed Muzzafar, was an independent contractor who was not responding to a fare for the company and did not have a passenger in his car at the time of the collision.
Attorney Christopher Dolan filed a lawsuit in January against Uber and Muzzafar on behalf of Liu’s family, alleging that ridesharing apps distract their drivers and that the companies should be held responsible for accidents involving their drivers.
Dolan attended today’s hearing and criticized Uber’s contention that Muzzafar was not working for them when he struck the young girl.
“These services show empty vehicles, that’s what they sell,” he said.
“This child died unnecessarily because of the use of an app,” he said.
Marzia Zafar, director of the CPUC’s policy and planning division, also attended today’s meeting and said the state agency is still working on the proper regulations for TNCs.
“This is a new industry for us,” Zafar said. “We don’t have all the answers.”
Dozens of taxi drivers spoke during the public comment portion of the hearing and encouraged San Francisco to join other major cities like New York City, New Orleans and Philadelphia that have banned TNCs, or others like Seattle that have limited the number of vehicles each company can use in their jurisdiction.
Some criticized the use of the term “ridesharing companies” for the TNCs.
“TNC is just another name for taxi,” said driver Iza Pardinas. “They do the same thing we do. They pick them up, they charge them, they drop them off.”
Pardinas said the TNCs have negatively impacted cab companies, which are losing drivers in droves.
“The industry is dying,” she said. “It’s gasping for its last breath.”
Supervisor Mar said he invited representatives from Uber and other ridesharing companies to attend today’s meeting but none came.
Mar said the hearing was “a great learning experience” on an issue that “has not gotten enough attention from the local government.”
He said he would work with his colleagues and stakeholders on a resolution detailing the shortcomings of the existing policies regarding TNCs and making suggestions on how to address them at the state and local level.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News