SFO, SFMTA ask state for stricter regulations of Uber and Lyft

Nearly two years ago, California regulators created historic statewide regulations for mobile ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, which they call “transportation network companies.”

Those same regulators asked dozens of government agencies, companies and individuals across the state for feedback in crafting new regulations for the ride services.

Now the feedback is streaming in, and San Francisco agencies are sounding off: Uber and Lyft need more regulations to ensure public safety.

The San Francisco International Airport and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency submitted joint comments to the California Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday detailing a litany of new regulations they say would make Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and other ride-hails safer.

“The City believes that more can and should be done to protect the public,” Ed Reiskin, the SFMTA's director of transportation, and SFO chief John L. Martin wrote in a joint letter. “A proper balance can be achieved without unduly upsetting the innovations [ride-hails] have introduced.”

Robert Mason, the CPUC's administrative law judge, issued a litany of questions about the regulations. They included inquiries on who should perform vehicle inspections and what amount of private driver data Uber, Lyft and others should provide the state.

This feedback is intended to help the CPUC craft what it calls “Phase II” regulations, a process expected to last through the end of 2016.

Specifically, the SFMTA and SFO want ride-hails to have vehicle inspections conducted only by qualified automotive technicians; collect records of vehicle inspections; cap mileage of TNC vehicles at 375,000 miles; provide data on driver suspensions; increase driver training; require drivers to display permanent “trade dress” (such as Lyft's signature pink mustache, which right now is removable); and the CPUC to implement graduated penalties against ride-hails that violate these regulations.

In a response submitted by Lyft, the company refuted the need for any change to regulations.

Kristin Sverchek, Lyft's general counsel, wrote, “Absent a clear need for change based on data, these sound rules should remain unchanged.”

Sverchek said Lyft's vehicle inspectors are trained and “experienced Lyft drivers.” Regarding training, Lyft touted its “expanded training process” that consists of podcasts, videos and a driver mentor program.

Most of the critique from the SFMTA and SFO highlighted the need for ride-hails to use biometric fingerprint criminal background checks by a company called Trustline.

Especially concerning, the SFMTA and SFO wrote, is that background checks are “insufficient for services provided to unaccompanied minors.”

Uber uses the criminal background firm Hirease. The SFMTA and SFO wrote that “such background checks are only as reliable as the information provided by the [driver].”

In a case study, a stricter fingerprint and Department of Justice background check on a Houston driver who was cleared by Hirease found that the driver had 24 aliases, five different dates of birth, 10 different Social Security numbers and an outstanding arrest warrant.

Lyft also disputed that unaccompanied minors use its service, which requires a customer to be 18 years old.

SFO said it tracks ride-hail trips at the airport. Of the 221,000 rides tracked during April, SFO estimates “11,081 unaccompanied minors could have been transported around San Francisco in April by drivers who have not undergone the [Department of Justice] Trustline background check.”

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