Supervisor Aaron Peskin speaks at an event celebrating the passage of Proposition D at Original Joe’s in North Beach on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Prop. D victory could mean better service for Muni riders

Funds from Uber tax to go toward alleviating driver shortage

Muni will soon hire more operators, aiming to solve a pernicious shortage that has led to less reliable transit service, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

And that money will come from Proposition D which, after several days of counting, appears to have narrowly passed at 67 percent.

The authors of Prop. D declared victory Monday night, but the tax on Uber and Lyft rides was never a sure thing

It has come close to being killed again and again since Supervisor Aaron Peskin first introduced it in May 2018.

But it creaked its way across the finish line like an old jalopy, sputtering and puttering all the way.

“We got here by the skin of our teeth,” Peskin said Monday.

The measure needed a 66 percent vote plus-one, or a two-thirds majority, to pass because it creates a fund specifically dedicated towards transportation in San Francisco. Taxes slated for the general fund only require a simply majority for approval.

Standing in the Tony Bennett Room at Original Joe’s restaurant in North Beach Monday night, Peskin declared victory for Prop. D — and announced where Muni would spend the money.

The majority of the roughly $30-35 million annually pulled in by the newly passed 3.2 percent and 1.5 percent tax on Uber and Lyft rides (depending on the number of passengers) will go straight to Muni to fund the hiring of new operators, Peskin revealed to a gathering of supporters.

Muni has had an operator shortage since at least early 2018, as revealed in an investigative report by the Examiner showing missed bus service citywide on a scale San Francisco hadn’t seen in years.

Prop. D will be a new tool in Muni’s toolbox, then, to push back that trend.

“They’re going to spend their money hiring more bus drivers,” Peskin told the San Francisco Examiner. Which is “very quickly going to lead to an increase in service.”

That earned him applause from Transport Workers Union Local 250-A President Roger Marenco, who represents Muni operators in The City.

“I’m happy that the riding public are going to see more service out there,” Marenco said. “That’s what they’ve been needing for decades.”

But Prop. D nearly died at least three times before it ultimately passed.

When Peskin first introduced it in May 2018, the measure did not have the backing of Uber and Lyft. But, Peskin and others said, Peskin’s aide Sunny Angulo worked behind the scenes to make the legislation work.

Uber’s lobbyist David Noyola and other behind-the-scenes players also helped broker peace between Uber, Lyft and Peskin, to craft legislation that wouldn’t lead to a multi-million dollar electoral battle between the ride-hail giants and The City.

The tax also required state approval via Assembly Bill 1184, authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). At the state level General Motors and Google’s self-driving car arm, Waymo, heavily fought AB 1184.

“The major lifting happened in Sacramento,” Peskin said.

State Sen. Scott Wiener told the Examiner it was the broad support from San Francisco officials that made the difference to lawmakers. Mayor London Breed was also a supporter of the ballot measure.

“When you have the entire delegation for a city for (the legislation), it can be influential,” Wiener said.

The assembly bill passed some key committees narrowly.

The last two hurdles were more nebulous to fix: Electoral support.

Jim Stearns and Maggie Muir are campaign consultants who normally represent candidates on opposite ends of San Francisco’s political spectrum. Each flagged a time when Prop. D nearly died.

“When we polled this in June it was at 54 percent” approval, Stearns said Tuesday. “I said to Aaron, you gotta tank this, it ain’t gonna pass.”

“You’re the one who led this entire thing to pass against all odds,” Stearns told Peskin, in front of the crowd.

And Peskin said it was Muir who saw the measure failing only weeks before election day, prompting him to ask Uber to pump more money into Prop. D’s campaign.

The ride-hail giant, normally a foe of San Francisco government, fed another $140,000 into the effort, for a total of $440,000. Lyft kicked in $200,000 to the ballot measure.

Even over the weekend, Prop. D teetered at 66.6656 percent approval — a handful of votes away from passage. By Monday, however, Peskin declared victory.

And Muni was set to get funding to hire operators.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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