In San Francisco’s tight city streets, speeding vehicles are as dangerous as any weapon.
Fighting back against pedestrian deaths, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and other city groups provide pedestrian and bicycle safety training to nearly every professional driver under our famous fog — everyone, that is, except Transportation Network Company drivers.
Drivers with Uber, Lyft and other so-called ride-hailing apps receive no safety training from these groups and generally lack robust training of their own.
As city government tackles its Vision Zero priority to end all pedestrian deaths due to car collisions by 2024, the more than 11,000 Uber and Lyft cars on San Francisco streets drive a gaping hole through those safety plans.
“In order to achieve Vision Zero, we all need to do our part,” said Tyler Frisbee, political director of the bike coalition. “Professional drivers like taxi drivers, Muni operators and other large-vehicle drivers set the tone of our streets.”
The bike coalition provided specialized pedestrian and bicycle safety training to over 1,800 drivers in 2014. That included new taxi drivers, trash collectors, and even the infamous commuter shuttle drivers who ferry around Google and Genentech workers, among others. The coalition also has a hand in developing training videos for Muni operators.
In partnership with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and pedestrian advocates Walk SF, the bike coalition will also train large-vehicle drivers as part of Vision Zero.
But notably missing from those safety classes are ride-hail service drivers.
Classified by regulator the California Public Utilities Commission as Transportation Network Companies, drivers for Uber, Lyft and others are required by the CPUC to complete “a driver training program to ensure that all drivers are safely operating the vehicle prior to the driver being able to offer services,” according to regulatory documents.
So far this training has only materialized as videos, which Uber and Lyft both provide. Uber’s safety training video is less than two minutes long. Taxi drivers are required by the SFMTA, which regulates the local industry, to take 26 hours of safety training.
Complicating such a safety requirement is current litigation about whether ride-hail drivers are employees or independent contractors.
There were 21 pedestrian deaths in The City in 2013 and 17 last year. One of the 2013 deaths, on New Year’s Eve, involved a 6-year-old girl named Sofia Liu. Uber driver Syed Muzzafar was allegedly looking at his phone searching for a passenger when he ran into Sofia’s family, injuring her mother and brother and killing her.
Last year, the family filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit against Uber, and Muzzafar was charged in December with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.
“For many of the drivers for these companies, who aren’t used to driving in San Francisco and who are frequently pulling over to the side of the road, it’s particularly important that they are educated about how to drive safely on our chaotic San Francisco streets,” Frisbee of the bike coalition said.
The bike coalition’s classes teach best practices for driving on busy urban streets, understanding bicycle and pedestrian safety infrastructure, blindspot awareness, and how to unload passengers around bike lanes without being intrusive.
Frisbee said she is “eager” to work with Uber and Lyft and had preliminary conversations with the two companies.
Uber indicated it might unveil new safety measures for drivers in the next few weeks. The company does offer voluntary training through an outside group, but drivers must pay for it themselves.
Uber declined further comment, and Lyft did not return requests for comment.
An Uber driver who spoke to The San Francisco Examiner said he is wary of safety training.
Zach Hudson, a former cabdriver who has been with Uber for two years, said he was not required to take Uber safety classes, though driving “is not rocket science.” Safety classes would only add more bureaucracy, he said.
At least one taxi driver disagrees.
Michael J. Murphy, an 18-year veteran cabbie who is now with DeSoto Cab Co., pointed to the complexities of vehicle laws – from Americans with Disabilities Act requirements to numerous bicycle safety regulations – as reasons why safety classes are important.
Even a small measure of training, Murphy said, can make all the difference when it comes to safe driving.
“Just because I have a pair of pliers,” he said, “doesn’t mean I get to play dentist.”