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New rules to ban jitneys from competing with Muni

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Chariot, San Francisco’s only private mass-transit service, is not allowed to replicate Muni bus routes. (Daniel Kim/2017 Special to S.F. Examiner)

The City is on the cusp of approving new regulations that will officially bar private transit service Chariot — and similar jitney services, should they arise — from directly competing with existing Muni routes.

Late last year, The City approved its first-ever comprehensive regulations of jitneys, which chiefly govern San Francisco’s only remaining private mass-transit service, Chariot.

But a rule that would bar private transit from competing directly with Muni by offering similar routes was left in flux after those October 2017 approvals, as Chariot and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency negotiated terms.

Those rules do not require a vote of the SFMTA Board of Directors and will be approved by the agency “today or tomorrow,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said Tuesday evening.

“New routes should complement Muni service, not replicate it,” a staff presentation on the proposed regulations to the SFMTA Board of Directors said Tuesday.

Chariot is a private bus service accessible by a mobile phone app that serves between 3,000 and 4,000 riders a day, according to SFMTA staff reports. Its 200 or so drivers unionized with Teamsters Local 665 last year.

SFMTA planner Alex Jonlin said the regulations also address traffic violations and interference with regular Muni service, including stopping in Muni stops, double parking and other unsafe or illegal behaviors. Importantly, as part of the regulations Chariot will share GPS data with SFMTA showing where its vans roam and stop.

A draft memorandum from SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin dated Feb. 20 lays out the new rules under which private mass transit services could compete, or not, with Muni.

Among the revisions to a similar proposal last year, which was ultimately shelved, is a shift in how a Muni route is viewed. Instead of barring private mass transit from replicating a Muni bus route itself, private mass transit will not be allowed to replicate where Muni buses stop.

Private mass transit will be tasked with having “substantially different stop spacing” than Muni routes, meaning fewer than 75 percent of a private mass transit route’s stops can be located within 0.2 miles of a stop served by a Muni route, according to the SFMTA memo.

Private mass transit can offer similar routes to Muni, however, if those routes provide service at least every fifteen minutes in “Qualified Communities of Concern,” which are defined as low-income communities or communities of color, or the route provides service “entirely outside” the hours of the comparable Muni route, according to the memo.

Though the rules will apply only to Chariot, they are more broadly written as a catch-all for fixed private transit routes.

Both Lyft and Uber offer bus-like services for their vehicles, Lyft Shuttle and Uber Express POOL. The Uber Express POOL service is set to launch in six more cities nationwide Wednesday, though it has operated in San Francisco since November 2017.

Kate Toran, head of taxi services at SFMTA, who also helped craft the rules around private mass transit, said Lyft Shuttle is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, not the SFMTA, because it seats so few passengers in each vehicle.

While SFMTA officials have expressed concern about Chariot potentially competing with Muni, Uber staff argued Tuesday that the company’s new carpool service also may address routes public transit may not serve well.

In a Tuesday briefing with reporters, Ethan Stock, head of Product at Uber, said he viewed Uber’s Express POOL service as a solution to the “last mile problem,” where public transit doesn’t bring people to their destination doorstep.

“One of my favorite examples is my own commute,” he said. “I would love to take Caltrain up the Peninsula and have a seamless Caltrain ride to the Uber office (in San Francisco).”

Yet, he said, “the amount of time and frustration” he has trying to get from Caltrain to his offices at Uber on Market Street is a barrier to using public transit.

“I think this is an example of a gap in the public transit system I think Uber is in a position to fill,” he said. “Public transit works really well on core, high volume routes, but in the diversity of moving all over the city, it doesn’t.”

Notably, the public transit system that brings passengers from Caltrain to Market street most often, that Uber would supplant, is Muni.

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