San Francisco plays almost no role in regulating Uber and Lyft locally.
Not on traffic congestion, not on criminal background checks of drivers. Not on the number of vehicles operating (affecting profit made by drivers), nor even on road safety or maintenance.
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All of those regulatory powers lay with the state, specifically the California Public Utilities Commission, which San Francisco transit officials have tried to sway 26 times in extensive legal briefings to regulate Uber and Lyft more heavily.
And 26 times they have mostly failed, one city official admitted Tuesday.
That would be the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, the top boss of Muni, local taxi regulators and of The City’s streets.
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In a rare, candid statement to the SFMTA Board of Directors at its regular meeting Tuesday, Reiskin told the board he felt stymied by the CPUC.
“There are a lot of things happening right now with regard to [ride-hails] and rapid changes that are very different than what they’ve first said when they first came into being,” Reiskin said, referring to a number of new laws enacted around ride-hails in November and December.
At first, Uber and Lyft presented themselves as sharing people’s privately owned cars, but now they are more “commercial vehicles,” Reiskin said, noting a recent state law and CPUC decision that allow Uber and Lyft drivers to drive rented cars.
“They said they would never be in the transportation business, they were just a software platform,” Reiskin said.
In order to make sure Uber and Lyft do not contribute to deadlocked downtown traffic and that the companies adhere to street safety rules like Vision Zero, and other regulations, the SFMTA has submitted formal comments to the CPUC, to no avail, he said.
“We’ve done that 26 times repeatedly calling for the CPUC to raise safety standards,” and other standards, he said.
But, Reiskin said, “I have to say frustratingly very little of what we’re requesting in those 26 filings have been implemented by the CPUC,” and the state legislature have enacted laws, like those around the use of rented cars, that circumvented even the CPUC.
“As you know we don’t have regulatory oversight over them,” Reiskin said of Lyft and Uber, “but we’ll continue to push to make sure they are safely operating on the streets.”
Responding to Reiskin’s comments, the CPUC told the San Francisco Examiner in a statement, “We are focusing on implementing legislation related to [ride-hails] at present, as well as reviewing our safety rules for the industry. We welcome suggestions from all parties, including SFMTA, as part of our ongoing proceeding.”