California’s Proposition 218, passed in 1996, prevents the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency or any other system statewide from creating a fee that goes beyond cost recovery.
The $1.5 million expected to be generated under the SFMTA’s 18-month pilot program is enough to cover administration and enforcement costs. The program was announced by transit and city officials Monday. Whether The City should make a profit from shuttle-utilizing tech companies such as Google was “never part of the conversation because we can’t legally do it,” said SFMTA Transportation Director Ed Reiskin.
It does not, however, bar local government from taking a tax on commuter shuttles to the ballot. With the pilot program two weeks away from being heard before the SFMTA board of directors, a tax is “something that we haven’t at all discussed and I don’t think has been on anyone’s radar,” Reiskin said.
The Mayor’s 2030 Transportation Task Force identified $10.1 billion in infrastructure needs over the next 15 years – much of that for Muni. The SFMTA also oversees taxis, bike and pedestrian programs, and parking and traffic control operations.
However, Reiskin said, it would be hard to imagine shuttles and employers being taxed at a level that would meet such a great need.
“I’m certain that there’s a point where it would no longer be viable for them to provide the service,” he said. “As long as we can resolve the conflict they’re creating, we wouldn’t want to do something beyond that to make these people who are using the buses get back into their cars.”
Though the pilot is not allowed to be revenue-generating, The City should consider charging tech companies and employers for past Muni stop violations, said Erin McElroy, an organizer with Eviction-Free San Francisco. The group is part of the San Francisco Displacement and Neighborhood Impact Agency, which staged Google and Apple shuttle bus protests in December and calculated the companies owe an estimated $1 billion if fined $271 for each violation in the past two years.
Tom Radulovich, executive director of transportation advocacy group Livable City, likened San Francisco’s first step to regulating the shuttles to the California Public Utilities Commission’s recent legislation to manage startup ride services like Uber.
“They’re not public transportation and they’re not taxis — they’re private,” he said. “SFMTA doesn’t have a whole lot of authority to regulate the shuttles.”