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Mayor Lee strikes deal to allow Uber, Lyft vehicles to use SF curb space

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In exchange for traffic data from Uber and Lyft, Mayor Ed Lee has agreed to a pilot program to convert some parking spaces into painted curbs that could be legally used by ride-hail drivers. (Aleah Fajardo/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Mayor Ed Lee and tech giants Uber and Lyft struck a deal this week to provide city curb space for ride-hail vehicles as part of a new pilot designed to ease San Francisco traffic, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

In exchange for traffic data from Uber and Lyft that The City will use to combat congestion, Lee agreed to a pilot program to convert some parking spaces — in a yet-to-be determined commercial corridor — into painted curbs that could be legally used by ride-hail drivers.

That data is a holy grail sought aggressively by city leaders to help transportation planners ease local traffic, including City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who has filed with the California Public Utility Commission to obtain such data. The CPUC regulates Uber and Lyft in California.

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“The City and shared mobility organizations both want the same thing for our city — a world class transportation network that is safe and efficient for everyone,” Lee wrote in a Tuesday morning email to the CEOs of Uber and Lyft, Dara Khosrowshahi and John Zimmer, respectively.

The deal follows Lee’s effort to negotiate with Uber and Lyft that began in May, which was first reported by the Examiner, to combat increasing traffic jams and safety concerns that city leaders say is exacerbated by 5-6,000 Uber and Lyft vehicles that descend on San Francisco daily, out of a pool of 45,000-plus local ride-hail drivers.

The deal struck by Lee, Uber and Lyft comes after months of negotiations behind the scenes.

In the letter to the Uber and Lyft CEOs, Lee wrote that prior to the implementation of the pilot program, ride-hail companies will electronically ban ride-hail drivers from using certain locations via the cellphone app, called geofencing.

Geofencing would help designate for drivers which painted curbs they could use to pick up passengers, Lee wrote, and the ride-hail companies will begin “in-app education” of customers and riders on the new protocol.

“To ensure compliance,” Lee wrote, “The City will require data, such as anonymized trip details, from shared mobility providers (Uber and Lyft).”

Uber said it was “excited” to collaborate with the Mayor’s Office and would share data through a third party, but did not clarify what level of data would be shared.

Notably, the company has said that it shares trip data in heat maps, which they call “Movement,” but it lacks specificity necessary to help transportation planners.

“Lyft looks forward to partnering with the Mayor’s Office” Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson said in a statement. She added, “The details of the program are still being finalized, but we believe there is a way to share anonymized data that helps The City understand the current transportation environment while still protecting user privacy.”

Exactly what commercial corridor the pilot will take place in, and in which neighborhood, has not yet been determined, according to Lee’s letter.

After the agreement was announced Tuesday, Supervisor Hillary Ronen voiced her desire to find alternatives for Uber and Lyft on Valencia Street, where cyclists complain thousands of ride-hail drivers block bike lanes each day.

SEE RELATED: How Do You Fix a Problem Like Valencia?

“I strongly urge that Valencia [Street] be selected as the corridor for this program,” Ronen told the Examiner. However, she said she does not want parking to be impacted.

Meanwhile, in a public letter Ronen sent to Uber and Lyft on Tuesday, she asked the companies to voluntarily geofence Valencia, and only pick up riders on side streets.

Data from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority shows on one average Dolores Street block on any given Friday, there are about 280 ride-hail pickups and dropoffs, the Examiner previously reported. On just one block of Valencia Street near 16th Street, by contrast, there are as many as 2,190 daily pickups and dropoffs by ride-hails like Uber and Lyft.

Though no neighborhood has been identified for Lee’s pilot with Uber and Lyft, the agreement will kick off an outreach effort with the Board of Supervisors, merchants and residents, to see who would be willing to host this ride-hail pilot.

At least one Lyft driver is a fan, with some concerns. Ken, who declined to give his last name, drove on Fulton Street as he discussed his concerns about the deal with The City.

“It depends on the location. Just like here, we don’t need a white zone, you know what I’m talking about?” he said, gesturing to Alamo Square Park

Ken, a three-year Uber driver who switched to Lyft two months ago, said it would be more useful to have white zones to pickup and drop off passengers along Market Street, for instance, or Valencia Street, where bicyclists have held human chain protests to highlight the danger of Uber and Lyft vehicles swooping into bike lanes to pick up passengers.

“I know there’s a lot of drivers on the street,” Ken said. “Traffic is getting worse and worse.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original version.

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