By Susan Vaughan and David Fairley
Centuries ago, the Catholic church sold indulgences to sinners. The indulgence trade allowed the church to fund its projects — such as cathedrals and crusades — and for sinners to keep on sinning for a small price.
Such is the nature of Proposition D, the proposed tax on all Uber and Lyft rides that originate in San Francisco, some of which will go to Muni. Proponents argue that the money raised will mitigate the impacts of Uber and Lyft. That’s doubtful. In fact, passage of Prop. D will give these two scofflaw corporations cover of legitimacy — and make Muni dependent on enabling all their negatives: congesting our city streets; violating rules of the road (double parking, and stopping in public bus stops, bicycle lanes, and crosswalks); competing with Muni for passengers in their insatiable quest to turn a profit; and, most alarmingly, exacerbating the global climate crisis.
These transportation network companies (TNCs) lose money hand over fist — over $5 billion for Uber alone in the last quarter. But these desperadoes are gambling that by flooding the streets with cheap, convenient car rides they will cripple or even destroy public transportation — the planet be damned. Uber’s IPO reveals that it eyes every person globally who boards public transit as a potential customer. Lyft’s IPO suggests that it is partnering with public transportation, but read between the lines. Lyft, which only operates in the United States and Canada, compared to Uber’s global reach, lost over $600 million in the last quarter. It, too, will fail unless it attracts passengers away from public transportation.
We don’t need to help TNCs figure out how to survive or if they should survive. They aren’t crying for the drivers whose jobs they plan to eliminate with autonomous vehicles, so we shouldn’t cry for Uber or Lyft.
In the meantime, Uber and Lyft certainly need to be taxed. However, AB 1184, the 2018 state law negotiated with Uber and Lyft on which Proposition D is based, actually limits the amount that San Francisco can tax TNC passenger rides. Measure D’s proposed tax brings in about 35 cents a ride. Compare that with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposal to more than triple the current 72 cents per-ride TNC tax, which is already double what Prop D would charge. Moreover, the California Public Utilities Commission and additional state laws took away regulatory tools that San Francisco desperately needs to deal with these malefactors — the power to require the same kind of training and background checks required of cab drivers and the power to restrict the number of TNC vehicles choking our streets.
Over the past decade, traffic congestion in San Francisco has reduced speeds on main arterials by 25 percent. A trip that averaged 16 mph in 2009 now averages 12. A San Francisco County Transit Authority study concluded that TNCs were responsible for more than half of this decrease. Meanwhile TNCs have added significantly to local air pollution and SF’s carbon footprint.
Muni, in contrast, is the greenest transportation agency in the nation. Our buses, trains and cable cars carry more than twice as many passengers with a much smaller carbon footprint. More people riding TNCs means more pollution and congestion; more riding Muni means less. If we are serious about fighting climate change, this is the system we should expand — and use. But Muni can’t operate effectively in the traffic molasses that TNCs help produce. Individuals will continue to use TNCs as long as the TNCs dump most of these social costs onto society.
Time is running out to act on climate change. It’s no time for indulgences. Vote NO on D.
Susan Vaughan is a public transportation activist. David Fairley is a local air quality statistician. Both decided to forego car ownership in the early 1990s.