One San Francisco elected official is again bucking Silicon Valley's freewheeling attitudes. After informing Airbnb hosts they have to declare sundry household items on their taxes, it's now time for ride-hail app giants Uber and Lyft — who, according to data, have a small cities' worth of people driving for them in San Francisco.
Treasurer Jose Cisneros is now requiring drivers for Uber and Lyft to pay for a business license to operate in the city. In addition to forking over $91, this means, like traditional cabdrivers, their names will be entered into a public database.
The move will affect those who drive for either company for seven or more days a year — which, Cisneros told the Chronicle, is more than 37,000 people. That’s a ton of drivers, especially considering that there are about 1,900 city-issued taxicab medallions in San Francisco. Cisneros would not reveal how he obtained that number.
[jump] Uber said in April of last year that it had more than 20,000 drivers in San Francisco. Lyft has never revealed such data.
The order will likely come off as a political move, although it’s hard to see it being anything more than an effort at compliance as these drivers become more and more common on city streets.
Lyft complained to the Chronicle that “[w]e have serious concerns with the city’s plan to collect and display Lyft drivers’ personal information in a publicly available database. People in San Francisco, who are choosing to drive with Lyft to help make ends meet, shouldn’t have to compromise their privacy in order to share a ride.”
That’s an odd position considering that the names of every taxi medallion holder have long been public. Uber, on the other hand, took the announcement in stride, saying drivers “are responsible for following appropriate local requirements.”
Meanwhile, the question of whether these drivers are independent contractors, which is what Cisneros is saying when he asks them to acquire business licenses, or employees — which is what some entities like the California Employment Development Department is saying, when it awards unemployment benefits to drivers — is still unanswered.
A federal judge denied the company’s $12.25 million settlement reached with drivers in January, saying it was not adequate enough and both sides needed to come to a new agreement by May. At over 55,000 drivers in the class, the settlement averages out to about $60 per driver, after attorneys' fees.
Uber is facing a similar lawsuit, which goes to trial in June.
This is not Cisneros’s first foray into regulatory compliance for gig economy companies. In 2012, he clashed with the Mayor Ed Lee when he demanded that Airbnb pay $25 million for skirting for years the transient occupancy tax, more commonly known as the hotel tax for room rentals. Airbnb paid up last year and offers guidance on how hosts can collect the tax.
By registering as a business with the city, Uber and Lyft drivers will pay $91 a year for the license if they amass less than $100,000 in gross receipts. They will also be subject to the fee for prior years as a driver. Some drivers are already registered, Cisneros said, but the number is unknown. The city could collect more than $3.3 million from registrants. As far as compliance, drivers could be cited for not displaying the business license in their vehicle.
The Mayor’s Office deferred questions from the Chronicle to Cisneros.