San Francisco’s debate over tech shuttles may come down to a court battle that could challenge The City’s legal authority to allow the private buses to use Muni stops.
The Board of Supervisors rejected an appeal after hours of discussion Tuesday that would have put a commuter shuttle-fee program on hold for an environmental review to address potential impacts ranging from pollution to displacement of residents.
But appellants in the case have 30 days to decide whether to file a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court to overturn the board’s decision. The case illustrates the ongoing tensions between some residents and the booming technology industry blamed for a rise in evictions, rent and cost of living.
On Wednesday, Chris Daly, the political director for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, an appellant, signaled a potential challenge, saying, “We have an exceptionally strong legal case. That obviously impacts the likelihood of us moving in that direction.”
The debate Tuesday illustrated potential legal arguments on both sides. A Monday budget analyst’s report also discusses some. The pilot would place a $1 per stop per day fee on the shuttles.
The City used a baseline of August to determine the program’s exemption from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act. Appellants argue that an illegal shuttle operation cannot be used as a baseline.
The report highlighted complexities around state and local laws governing the use of Muni bus stops, or red zones. The state’s vehicle code permits passenger dropoff and pickup if they are “engaged as a common carrier,” which is not defined in the code, the report said. But “the Public Utilities Code defines ‘common carriers’ as entities that provide transportation to the public or any portion thereof for compensation.”
“This definition appears to exclude private shuttles as they are not available to the public for compensation but are restricted to private groups such as a company’s employees in the case of regional and intracity commuters,” the report said.
The city attorney has opined that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has the legal authority to regulate the red zones, or Muni bus stops, and that the 18-month pilot, scheduled to begin in July, would allow the shuttles to begin using the stops legally.
However, the appellants’ attorney, Richard Drury, argued Tuesday that the pilot is pre-empted by the state law, saying, “The City just can’t do this.”
Daly said while opponents may choose to file a lawsuit, he doesn’t believe that would be “our only strategy moving forward.” Other possibilities include a November ballot measure that would assess a tax on shuttles tied to their impacts.