A new report suggests Muni should work to become more cost competitive with ride hail services. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Report: Make Muni free to offset ride hail impacts

Study suggests best response to influx of Uber drivers is expanding access to public transit

Got a problem with ride hail companies? Make Muni free.

That is one among many suggestions a team of 22 University of San Francisco graduate students came up with in a three-month study on the impacts of ride hail companies like Uber or Lyft.

“If San Francisco cannot directly regulate [Transportation Network Companies] and is frustrated by its geographical impacts, one of the best strategies to respond that is actually within our powers is to drastically expand and prioritize Muni and regional transit service while freezing, reducing, or eliminating transit fares,” said their report.

The City has explored a free public transit system in the past, but opted instead to make it free only for low and moderate income youth and seniors.

“As it stands right now, Muni is not particularly price (or service) competitive with Uber or Lyft, and in 2018, the Board of Supervisors approved further fare increases for Muni’s 2019-2020 operating budget,” said their report. “Muni collects $200 million a year in revenue from fares, and while it is not an insignificant amount, it does not make up the majority of Muni’s funding, and other funding sources (including congestion pricing) should be explored to stabilize or reduce fares while improving service.”

“In short, there would be far less need and temptation for commuters to open a ride-hail app if they could trust in a transportation system that was reliable, expedient, affordable and inviting,” the report said.

The students with the university’s Urban and Public Affairs program conducted a survey of 36 ride hail drivers and held six interviews to produce the report for the Local Agency Formation Commission, on which members of the Board of Supervisors serve.

Through the survey, the students found that drivers are “traveling anywhere from 1 to 383 miles to work in San Francisco” and that “only 26 percent of respondents reported feeling safe driving for Uber/Lyft.”

While drivers liked having a flexible work schedule, many reported they had less time for family and hobbies, and “only 34 percent of drivers report having more income stability since they started driving for Uber and Lyft.”

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Supervisor Sandra Fewer, LAFCO chair, after Friday’s hearing on the findings. “I have so many other questions.”

More answers are expected. The commission approved a $300,000 contract with University of California, Santa Cruz, Jobs with Justice San Francisco and Driver’s Seat Cooperative, to conduct “one of the most comprehensive surveys of on-demand workers in the United States to date.”

Speaking of Muni fares, not everyone is happy about the upcoming increases. For example on July 1, the cash fare for an adult ride will increase to $3 from the current $2.75.

In response, the nonprofit South of Market Community Action Network launched a “Bring Down MUNI Fares” campaign Wednesday.

Mary Claire Amable, SOMCAN’s Transit Justice Organizer, said that annual fare increases since 2016 have “really been impacting working class folks.”

The agency has a policy that ties fare increases to inflation, but Amable said that not everyone’s wages keep up with inflation.

The campaign seeks to halt the upcoming increases and then start to reduce existing fares.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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