“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” Bob Dylan once sang. While most of us are able to figure things out with our eyes and brains, the powers that be seem incapable of making or accepting empirical observations. Especially when it comes to Uber and Lyft.
On Monday, the two companies released the findings of a jointly funded analysis by an independent transportation firm detailing the impact of their services on traffic in six US cities, including San Francisco. News that Uber and Lyft are responsible for a significant amount of congestion was met with a resounding, “Duh!”
You don’t need an independent transportation firm to know that Uber and Lyft are mucking up traffic.
Anyone who’s ever tried to get around San Francisco has witnessed the consequences of Uber’s and Lyft’s concerted efforts to flood the streets with cars. While idling in gridlock, trying in vain to get through an intersection, you just have to look at the cars around you to notice most have Uber and/or Lyft decals.
Of course, despite the recent findings, Uber’s head of global policy immediately shirked responsibility by arguing that private cars still make up most of the congestion.
Sure, if you’re only looking at figures. But it doesn’t take a statistician to figure out that an influx of 6,000 vehicles for hire on any given day will have an extensive impact on traffic.
Since the vast majority of these drivers aren’t from San Francisco or the immediate vicinity, if Uber and Lyft weren’t encouraging them to venture into The City with financial incentives, they wouldn’t even be here.
As non-native drivers, they’re unfamiliar with the challenging terrain and unique road conditions. Their indecisiveness leads to slowdowns and even worse gridlock.
More importantly, and what gets completely overlooked in these discussions, they’re operating vehicles differently than regular commuters, who usually travel from the freeway to an office building or a store. Uber/Lyft drivers, on the other hand, are functioning as taxi drivers, without the training or experience.
When they’re not cruising around town empty waiting for ride requests, they’re picking up and dropping under awkward, often difficult circumstances. And in the process, causing backups by double parking with impunity, stopping in turn lanes and blocking the flow of traffic to wait for passengers.
The accidents they’re responsible for are rarely reported because they can easily transform into regular cars by removing their trade dress.
They break traffic laws without fear of reprisal, brazenly making all sorts of illegal moves. Sometimes right in front of police officers.
It just takes one boneheaded move to create a massive snarl up that spreads throughout multiple city blocks. Traffic is like a river. If you impede the flow of water, it accumulates and begins spilling out through other channels, like side streets.
All of which leads to a never-ending series of traffic nightmares.
Things have become so bad in The City because of Uber/Lyft, you can see the signs of frustration on regular drivers, as well as Muni operators, bicyclists, pedestrians and anyone else trying to navigate the constant Uber/Lyft jams.
And yet, Uber still claims to be focused on reducing car ownership. If this is true, why are so many companies providing rental cars for non-car owners to work for Uber and Lyft?
In what universe is it possible to simultaneously take cars off the road by flooding them with cars? It’s like their similarly illogical argument that drivers would make more money after they lowered the rates. Or how their services were safer than taxis despite lax background checks that gave criminals access to new victims.
It might seem astonishing that technology companies can be so horrible at basic math and the laws of physics until you realize Uber and Lyft are only out to make a buck, and they’re more than willing to do that at the expense of the general public by propagating false statements and shirking responsibility for their actions.
And who can blame them? It’s not like anyone is holding them accountable. And it’s doubtful anyone will.
To quote Bob Dylan again, “The pump don’t work cause the vandals took the handle.”
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. He is a guest opinion columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.idrivesf.com.