Uber and Lyft Agree to Pricey New S.F. Tax

The threat of an expensive November ballot measure battle compelled Lyft and Uber to agree to the plan before it reached voters.

San Francisco announced a rare compromise on Tuesday between the city and two transportation network companies — Uber and Lyft — after months of negotiations led by Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s office. In a statement sent to the press, the ride-share companies promised to comply with a plan to tax each ride taken in the city. Legislation will direct funds raised by the tax to city transportation infrastructure and operation.

Assemblymember Phil Ting will push for state legislation that would permit S.F. to issue a per-ride tax. A 3.26 percent tax would be placed upon regular single-passenger trips, and a shared Uber Pool or Lyft Line will have a 1.5 percent tax. Trips made by fully electric vehicles or those that can accommodate wheelchairs will be tax-free.

The agreement came as the threat of a November ballot measure forcing a tax loomed. Put forth by Peskin, the measure had solid backing and appeared likely to pass. If it went forward, both Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) would have had to shell out a large sum of money in opposition ads, and still may have lost the fight. In a show of good faith, Peskin pulled the measure after Uber and Lyft conceded to the tax. 

“This is a win-win for everyone,” he said. “We have a $100 million local funding obligation to meet the transportation demands of a growing city. Voters have made it clear that they want corporations to pay their fair share to meet that need, particularly when there is a nexus to issues like congestion and traffic. I’m optimistic that this concession on the part of the TNCs signals a shift in their corporate culture and a willingness to work with — not fight with — local governments.”

The agreement marks a notable shift in the perception many companies have regarding their rights to operate in San Francisco unchecked. Despite Lyft and Uber’s refusal to release internal transit data, multiple studies conducted in the past year show that the companies increase traffic in cities where they operate. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority estimates that together Lyft and Uber average a total of 82 million trips annually, with 80 to 90 percent of drivers commuting from outside San Francisco, in many cases from hours away.

And with those drivers comes a slew of traffic safety concerns. Last September, the San Francisco Police Department reported that almost two-thirds of congestion-related traffic violations downtown were from Uber and Lyft vehicles. Behavior cited by SFPD included TNC vehicles driving in public transit-only lanes, blocking bike lanes, and driving down stretches of Market Street that are closed to private vehicles.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera has intervened multiple times to address Uber and Lyft’s “public nuisance,” requesting transparency around driver pay and miles logged, and for the companies to improve their drivers’ adherence with the law.

But with this latest agreement, the optimistic among us may have reason to believe the tide is turning. Among them is Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

“Lyft and Uber have an outsize impact on our city’s streets, adding tens of thousands of additional vehicles in conflict with our Transit First policy,” he said. “It’s only logical that our city, like many others around the country, make them pay their fair share in order to maintain and improve the streets they drive on, and I’m pleased to see them step up and do the right thing.”

As for providing their transportation data to the city — which would help S.F. create better infrastructure and laws to manage the influx of vehicles on our streets — the verdict is still out, at least until another politician threatens them with a ballot measure.

Nuala Sawyer is SF Weekly’s news editor.
nsawyer@sfweekly.com |  @TheBestNuala

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