An Uber-branded vehicle. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

SF taxi drug testing policy may spread to Uber, Lyft

San Francisco cab drivers will be drug tested, thanks to a new resolution passed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors on Tuesday. But the local law may also have implications statewide.

Even now, state lawmakers are weighing whether to drug test Uber and Lyft drivers.

When Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks, authored Assembly Bill 24 last year to do just that, opposition from Uber and Lyft was a sure thing.

What was surprising to local transit experts, however, was the San Francisco taxi industry was used as an example to argue against the bill, although they actively supported it.

AB 24 would require Uber and Lyft drivers to be drug tested, participate in a Department of Justice fingerprint criminal check, and for the DMV to automatically inform employers when drivers are arrested for a DUI — all of which are current requirements of taxis in California.

Given the taxi industry’s frequent cry for more regulations governing Transportation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft, taxi support was a given.

Barry Korengold of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance told the state’s Assembly Utilities & Commerce Committee in April he strongly supports drug testing of Uber and Lyft drivers.

He wasn’t the only one from The City speaking to state lawmakers. Also present was Wayne Ting, general manager of Uber in San Francisco.

It was Ting who cited the example of San Francisco cabbies in an attempt to knock AB 24 over the head.

“To the question of drug testing in the state of California, there isn’t a state-wide regulation for taxis either,” Ting argued. “In the city of San Francisco, where, you know, I live and I love, the taxi industry doesn’t have a drug testing standard.”

As for Uber and Lyft, the California Public Utilities Commission only requires them to have a “zero tolerance” policy towards drug and alcohol use. The tech companies argue rating drivers via an app renders drug testing obsolete.

“This intrusive requirement will not make the public safer but will discourage people from participating in casual carpooling,” Lyft representatives told the San Francisco Examiner, in a statement. “We urge state leaders to reject this unnecessary and burdensome proposal.”

AB 24 ultimately stalled in the appropriations committee. Nazarian said he will take the bill up again next year, his third try to pass such regulations.

Still, Ting was correct — San Francisco until this week did not require drug tests of cabbies.

California government code required cabbies to be drug tested as far back as 1996. Though SFMTA took over regulation of taxis in 2009, it had not since then instituted drug testing.

And Ting’s argument echoed prominently in the SFMTA board as they debated local drug testing.

Kate Toran, head of SFMTA’s taxi and accessible services division, told the board “It often comes up [in Sacramento], ‘San Francisco doesn’t have a drug policy yet?’ It’s a bit of egg in our face because we don’t require it.”

SFMTA board director Malcolm Heinicke asked if “our lack of policy is slowing down Sacramento” from drug testing Uber, and Lyft.

Toran replied, “It’s certainly a talking point.”

Ultimately the local drug testing measure passed, with an exemption for medical marijuana users.

Notably, SFMTA has heavily advocated state regulators to place heavier restrictions on Uber and Lyft. Passing local drug testing “does send the right message,” Toran said.

As for Nazarian, he told the Examiner “I am thankful for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s support on AB 24, and hope this adds to the momentum towards placing the public’s safety over special interests.”

San Francisco will begin drug testing taxi drivers next month.

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