“It’s really starting to be a free-for-all out there”: SF Supes Hear Harsh Words At Ridesharing Hearing

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

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  • ClaimsAdjuster

    “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.”

    It is not that complicated. The ICPUC (Incompetent California Public Utlities Commission) should mandate that the TNCs carry commercial insurance just like taxis and limos. This will take take care of the insurance gap demonstrated in the UberX New Year’s eve fatality accident accident.

    But the ICPUC is dragging this out because they are more concerned about the keeping the TNCs business costs low than they are about public safety.

    • Elias Levy

      The CPUC already requires commercial liability insurance from TNCs. See http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/PUC/Enforcement/TNC/TNC+Insurance+Requirements.htm.

      • ClaimsAdjuster

        Are you seriously trying to deny the insurance gap? The ICPUC requires that the TNCs provide insurance starting when their vehicle is in transit to a fare and while occupied by a TNC passenger. Outside of that, the TNC vehicle is uninsured because it usually is just covered by a non-commercial policy which is invalid for a for hire vehicle. Those are the circumstances of the Sophia Liu accident.

        http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2014/01/20/ride-sharing-insurance-lyft-uberx-sidecar/

        • Elias Levy

          No, I am not denying anything. I was not aware of their differences. Thanks for educating me.

          That said, I understand the difference. The CPUC is assuming, I think somewhat reasonably, that participants in TNC are not full time drivers and that the car will not be used most of the time to provide TNC service (this doesn’t apply to Uber town cars and IAFAIK they are not considered TNCs but are regulated just like any other town car service). Thus, its not unreasonable to have insurance that only applies while they are providing the service.

          But as you point out, a driver can be in between fares and yet not done providing TNC service. So it would be reasonable for the CPUC to mandate insurance that covers some amount of time before and after before a fare, or if the TNC can determine when the driver has their application open and can record that data, have the insurance apply during those times as well.

          • ClaimsAdjuster

            The ICPUC was told repeatedly by the Insurance Commissioner, the CHP and the insurance industry during their hearings last summer that these TNC vehicles did not have valid coverage. If they made assumptions, they were not reasonable. The ICPUC has created a mess and they are doing nothing to fix it. All we here from them is excuses and pleas for more time.

          • Elias Levy

            That’s hyperbole.

            As you’ve agreed to, the TNCs do have some coverage mandated by the CPUC. We may agree that that coverage is insufficient to cover all cases, but that is hardly invalid coverage.

            How can you state that the CPUC has created a mess and they are not doing nothing to fix it, when they are the ones that mandated the insurance coverage, even if somewhat insufficient. I think we can all agree that insufficient coverage is better than none.

            Of curse, that does not mean that the CPUC should not mandate even better coverage.

          • ClaimsAdjuster

            Didn’t you read the KQED article? The Lyft and UbrerX drivers are hiding their taxi business from their insurers because they know that their policies will be cnacelled and their claims denied.

            This is what the Personal Insurance Federation of California stated in August, 2013 at the CPUC’s hearing on the TNCs: “… the industry standard for personal auto insurance policy contracts is to exempt from insurance coverage claims involving vehicles used for transporting passengers for a fee. Thus, in situations where a vehicle is insured as a private vehicle and is used to transport passengers for a fee, no insurance would exist.”

            What part of “no insurance” don’t you get?

  • AAFerguson

    Kudos to Supe Mar for using a public hearing for its intended purpose: to hear and consider testimony on a matter on which action may be taken.

    This is in direct contrast to Wiener’s hearings; those are a complete waste of time and money (both personal and public) because his hearings are on matters on which nothing can be done.
    They serve only to boost Wiener’s image… there’s an election coming up.

  • Elias Levy

    Quote: “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.”

    How exactly is the competition for business leading to danger? This statement is left out there dangling without any explanation. Given that these TNC use apps to assign drivers to customers, its not like there are a bunch of drivers rushing to a single location trying to be the first one to get there. So what was the meaning of this statement?

    Quote: 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 …. “This child died unnecessarily because of the use of an app,” he said.

    How is an app any different from a regular taxi’s fare console? Taxi drivers also spend their time looking for new fares in the console between customers.

    • mz

      Exactly. Taxis are out there competing for business, as they are legally allowed to accept street hails. This is why we see taxi drivers pulling illegal u-turns and picking up passengers in the middle of the street: the first one to the fare wins. TNCs cannot take street hails (not that some black car drivers don’t try to do it anyway, but that’s a separate problem that should be addressed through better enforcement) and are dispatched on request via apps.

    • Mrjhnsn

      Taxis are primarily looking ahead, not looking at a “console”. Its hard to drive safely when you are looking at a screen below the dash level. Cabbies drive looking for that hand in the air and keeping an ear open for the dispatch radio or MDT to notify them of an available call. Taxi drivers also know the city and don’t need a GPS to figure out if they should accept an order or get to it. SHITS (*ahem TNCS) are focused entirely on their phones and GPS, and in some cases up to 4 phones. Now multiply the number of “for hire” drivers in a formerly non-congested areas 7 fold AND looking at their phones… DANGEROUS. FOR EVERYONE. Don’t assume you know the truth about an industry that you have never worked in.

      • Elias Levy

        I don’t. That is why I inquire, but I take issue with the idea that cabbies are not looking at their console. I’ve seen them do so plenty while I’ve been on board.

        Similarly, I’ve never seen a TNC driver with more than one phone. But that is just my experience.

        As for congestion, LOL. I guess that is why folks complained so much about not being able to get a cab in this city before the TNCs and why they are so popular?

        Us folks here in the western badlands of SF are loving us some of this TNC congestion and not having to wait 45-60 minutes for a taxi.

        • Mrjhnsn

          The problem with your argument is assuming you know what a cabbie is doing with his eyes and why it takes 30 min to get a cab (when you call dispatch) in the west and south sides of town.

          1: cabbies are constantly scanning every aspect of their environment and making complex decisions in a fraction of the time it would take the average driver to do the same thing.
          2: it has been proven that long term cabbies (5 years or more) have significant improvement in higher brain function and new neurons and connections in the hippocampus. This allows a cabbie to process critical information to their job faster and more efficiently than non cabbies.
          3: when you call one cab company for a cab you are only getting your order offered to a fraction of the whole CITY’s available cabs. The smaller the fleet the longer the wait. If you call a bigger fleet your order gets automatically cancelled after 20 min of not being picked up. So if you call a big fleet and don’t call back every 15 min you only have yourself and low supply to blame for your 45min wait in the sunset.
          4: cabbies in the outer reaches of town would love to pick you up but if they are a) not already there or on their way there or b) not aware of your request they are not going to come get you.
          All of that said there have been ways to sucessfully get a cab out there but they were inefficient, time consuming, and sometimes even rude (calling multiple cab companies). We have had a multi fleet system in place for years and it’s only gotten better while the illegal techno-gypsy cabs rolled into town. It’s called FLYWHEEL and not only was it here first, it covers over 80% of SF taxis.

  • Barry T.

    Stop calling them ridesharing companies!!! The drivers are giving passengers rides to make money. There is nothing in its activity in which sharing is involved. Terrible journalism, BNS reporter!