S.F. Mayor Wants to Help Ride-Hailing Be Less Annoying

He's formulating a pilot program around big data.

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

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I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it too. We’ve tried our best to time things just right, summoning our Lyft or Uber driver just as we’re getting up to say goodbye to everyone at happy hour or dinner or wherever we might be socializing. But our timing is off, there’s too many people who need to say goodbye, or we can’t find where we left our coat or our bag in our collective pile of coats and bags. The driver calls, she or he is right outside, double-parked and blocking traffic on a street with only one lane in either direction. Car horns. Other angry drivers and customers in other cars. Mayhem.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee wants to do something to avoid situations like these, but he can’t do it without cooperation from the on-demand ride service companies themselves, reports the San Francisco Examiner. In exchange for Uber and Lyft providing the city with data describing where their cars drive, the mayor said, he will propose a pilot program that may develop ways to make pick-ups and drop-offs smoother.

The specter of recent self-driving car crashes loom over Uber and other companies, but the basic safety and convenience of the current driver/passenger system continues to be a touchy subject as many city administrators deal with the reality that ride-hailing services are now an entrenched component of their transit infrastructure (unless you live in Austin, perhaps).

Lee said the city was open to designating specific pick-up/drop-off points in key high-traffic areas, or somehow reducing ride-hail pickups or traffic along certain corridors. But the mayor wants to use data to drive those decisions.

Through Uber Movement, earlier this year the company started offering free, anonymized data meant to help cities improve transportation policy, planning and operations. Lee said his staff need more specific data.

It’s an especially touchy time for Uber and San Francisco, as City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit last week seeking to compel the company to release driver information and business records.

“The law requires any business in San Francisco to register with the Treasurer and Tax Collector’s Office, whether they’re PG&E or a hairdresser. Uber and its drivers are no different,” Herrera said in a statement. “San Franciscans have a right to know who is behind the wheel when they’re being driven somewhere. Not surprisingly, Uber is thumbing its nose at the law. It’s time for that to stop. Their argument that this is about their drivers’ privacy is a complete red herring.”

As reported in the San Francisco Business Times, at issue is the question of whether all of Uber’s drivers have obtained a business registration certificate from the city, given that Uber maintains they are independent contractors and not employees. The City Attorney would like to have the ability to cross-reference Uber’s driver database with the city’s business registry.

With that fight looming, Lee hopes to establish a cooperative relationship vis-a-vis data from Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies.

“We appreciate the mayor’s leadership on these issues and look forward to further discussions with his office on their upcoming initiatives,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement to the Examiner.

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Oscar is Next City's senior economic justice correspondent. He previously served as Next City’s editor from 2018-2019, and was a Next City Equitable Cities Fellow from 2015-2016. Since 2011, Oscar has covered community development finance, community banking, impact investing, economic development, housing and more for media outlets such as Shelterforce, B Magazine, Impact Alpha and Fast Company.

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Tags: san franciscocarsbig datauber

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