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Supervisor calls on SF to draft open letter to Uber, tech shuttles, to make streets safe

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Supervisor Aaron Peskin wants the SFCTA to draft a letter to Uber and other ride-hails asking them to work with The City on safety. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

One city supervisor wants Uber and other ride-hails to be safer on city streets.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin is asking Uber, tour bus companies and commuter shuttle providers to collaborate with San Francisco to save lives and stop scofflaw drivers who endanger the public.

In his role as San Francisco County Transportation Authority chair, Peskin asked the authority to draft an open letter to task ride-hails with supporting Vision Zero, which is The City’s mandate to end traffic deaths by 2024.

The call on transportation entities — Uber in particular — to cooperatively develop traffic safety measures with The City comes on the heels of Uber launching self-driving vehicles in San Francisco in defiance of state regulators.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles threatened legal action against Uber should it continue to run self-driving cars without necessary permits on San Francisco streets, though the cars continued to run after the order.

Video first revealed by the San Francisco Examiner showed one of these self driving cars flying through a red light on Third Street on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement strongly condemning Uber.

“The mayor demands Uber to stop the unpermitted and unlawful testing of autonomous vehicles on the streets of San Francisco until they obtain the appropriate permitting from the DMV,” wrote Ellen Canale, a spokesperson for Mayor Lee, in a statement to the Examiner.

Uber did not respond to requests for comment.

During an SFCTA hearing on Vision Zero on Thursday, Peskin’s aide, Sunny Angulo, said Uber and Lyft in particular need to be part of The City’s safety efforts.

“The companies themselves, in an appropriate, professional world, they would be here” at the meeting, Angulo said.

She added, “It’s disturbing we haven’t seen reciprocal interest on their part.”

Angulo said Peskin’s office was compelled to ensure those entities acted safely after hearing fears from constituents, including representatives from local schools.

John Knox White, a planner for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said San Francisco may have few options to compel regulation of commuter shuttles, tour buses and ride-hails like Uber and Lyft, as those entities are regulated at the state level.

Instead, he told the San Francisco Examiner, the SFMTA may need to rely on voluntary regulation, like in the case of commuter shuttles. That cooperation led to the creation of the commuter shuttle program, where in exchange for use of Muni bus stops, the shuttle companies provide data the SFMTA uses to improve safety.

But Uber and Lyft, in particular, have yet to provide The City with necessary data — like where and when their drivers speed, for instance — that would help them save lives, he told commissioners.

“We know there’s data out there that can help us with problems we need to solve,” Knox White said.

“From an SFMTA standpoint,” Knox White said, the ride-hails could “show themselves to be a bit more accountable.”

Multiple agencies are involved in a work group to develop the letter, Knox White said, including the SFMTA and SFCTA. The group is still working through many particulars, even “who is going to sign it?” he said.

Knox White said the group hopes to have a letter drafted by the SFCTA’s regular meeting in March.

Until then, Peskin’s aide, Angulo, said they would explore what means San Francisco has at its disposal to ensure ride-hails and other transportation entities are driving safely.

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