A decade ago, San Francisco required taxi companies to reduce emissions by implementing more cleaner cabs into their fleet. In only two years, the law lowered climate-change causing emissions by 35,000 tons annually and saved drivers money in fuel and maintenance costs.
Then, Uber and Lyft hit the streets.
Ride-hail companies travel approximately 570,000 miles within The City on a typical weekday. Unlike city taxis, these trips can be powered by polluting, fossil-fuel vehicles from as far away as Sacramento, San Jose and even San Diego. Not only is this bad for the environment, but also the young, elderly, sick and low-income San Franciscans most vulnerable to climate change and air pollution.
But the state Senate passed a bill last week that would require Uber and Lyft to reduce their emissions. As the legislation heads to the Assembly, advocates must ensure special interests don’t hit the brakes on healthy progress.
Senate Bill 1014 requires the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency in charge of regulating Uber and Lyft, to establish a program with set “clean mile” targets. By 2023, at least 20 percent of miles traveled by ride-hail company cars must be zero emission, and 50 percent by 2026. By 2030, all vehicles owned or leased by ride-hail companies must be electric.
The bill’s author, Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, repeatedly emphasizes that the legislation targets ride-hail companies, not the drivers. Uber and Lyft can meet the targets anyway they choose, including offering incentives to drivers or building company-owned electric fleets.
“The bill asks ride-hail companies to become a partner with the state in meeting our clean air and zero emissions goals,” Skinner told me.
While Uber has remained outwardly neutral on the legislation, Lyft publicly opposes it.
The company’s opposition is confusing given its environmental efforts. Lyft already dedicates financial resources to offsetting carbon emissions. The more clean vehicles on the platform, the fewer offsets Lyft needs to purchase.
Lyft also set a goal last year to provide at least 1 billion rides annually using electric, autonomous vehicles by 2025. The company already has plans to build a zero-emission fleet, five years before the bill’s proposed target.
Even more confusing is Lyft’s stated reasons for opposing the bill.
“We are engaging with the sponsor of this legislation to find ways to prioritize infrastructure development and incentivize electric vehicles,” Adrian Durbin at Lyft told me. “Any such legislation must also balance the impact on low-income and part-time drivers who use ridesharing to supplement their income and support their families.”
Skinner called this argument “disingenuous,” and I agree. This year, Gov. Jerry Brown set a goal to put five million zero-emission vehicles on California’s roads by 2030. The target prioritizes infrastructure development. By 2025, California should have 250,000 charging stations, including 10,000 fast chargers.
For years, the state has also incentivized and subsidized low-income drivers who want zero-emission vehicles and accessible charging stations.
Also (again) Skinner’s legislation doesn’t target drivers. It targets Uber and Lyft. In fact, the bill requires the CPUC to ensure there is minimal negative impact on low- and moderate-income drivers.
The California Environmental Justice Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting poverty and pollution, is one of a growing number of environmental, labor and transportation organizations supporting the legislation. Diana Vazquez, the alliance’s policy manager, pointed out that to measure impacts, you need information.
“You have to understand your low- and moderate-income drivers if you want to ensure there’s minimal to no impact,” she told me. “Are they driving full-time or part-time? What is their socioeconomic status? How many miles are they driving? CPUC and the state are going to want the data.”
Not wanting to reveal the data could be another reason for Lyft’s opposition. Not only do ride-hail companies have notorious reputations for fighting efforts to obtain data, but it also may be hard to collect given the huge amount of driver turnover.
But Skinner said the bill doesn’t require Lyft and Uber to give the CPUC data on the drivers. The purpose of the bill is to reduce the impact ride-hail companies are having on air pollution and climate change. The CPUC will work with Uber, Lyft and other environmental and poverty-focused groups to develop a workable program.
The simplest explanation for Lyft’s opposition is that it’s easier and more profitable to operate without regulations. But that’s simply unacceptable for the rest of us.
For years, San Francisco has watched our efforts to improve air quality and reduce emissions get dismantled by Uber and Lyft. Finally, the state is addressing these companies’ huge environmental impact. San Franciscans who care about clean air and a stable climate should tell our assembly members to support Skinner’s legislation.
GREEN SPACE Q&A
“Where do you throw milk cartons?” — Julia E.
Great question! While plastic milk containers obviously go in the blue bin, their paper counterparts are more confusing.
Normally, we compost food-soiled paper. But milk cartons, paper coffee cups and ice cream containers are an exception. Last year, Recology, The City’s recycling provider, began encouraging San Franciscans to toss the items in the blue bin with their plastic buddies. Make sure they’re empty first!
Don’t know whether it goes in the blue, green or black bin? Ask me! Email sorting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. Check her out at robynpurchia.com.