State regulators are debating how much to charge ridehail passengers to fund accessible transportation programs. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

State regulators propose doubling Uber, Lyft per-ride fee

Planned charge to finance wheelchair transportation set to take effect in July

State regulators have proposed doubling a planned fee for Uber and Lyft trips from five to ten cents per ride, but some transit officials say that isn’t high enough.

The cash collected from that fee — which has not yet been enacted — will fund California’s new ride-hail services for wheelchair users, which Uber and Lyft don’t currently offer in a robust fashion. Uber has only recently begun to offer some wheelchair service, but it has been criticized as being in its “early stages.”

Lack of service has left many wheelchair users at the curb, unable to enjoy these app-based transportation services as the able-bodied community does.

The increase was proposed in a California Public Utilities Commission decision dated May 24.

Senate Bill 1376, authored by State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), implemented the fee in the name of accessibility. The bill set up a process for state regulators to establish rules requiring ride-hails to provide rides to all Californians regardless of disabilities.

The need is great — the rise of Uber and Lyft use has tanked the local taxi industry and gutted the crucial transportation service it provided to people in wheelchairs, a report released by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency this month found. Regulated taxi cabs are the only “on demand” trip service available for people who use wheelchairs, but the vans that run these services require costly modifications to feature wheelchair ramps. Uber and Lyft haven’t voluntarily invested in providing those vehicles in California.

The proposed fees, which are required to go into effect by July 1, have yet to be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. The commission may hear the matter June 27.

So far, reactions to the fee have been mixed.

While the current proposal calls for using the small fee to establish wheelchair-accessibility services throughout California, for instance, some groups have argued in filings with the California Public Utilities Commission that the program should start only in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where the demand for wheelchair-accessible trips is highest.

Disability advocates have argued that the fee should be higher at 50 cents per ride. Locally, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency also isn’t a fan of the ten-cent fee, calling instead for it to be 15 cents per ride. While seemingly small, in legal missives filed with state regulators The City has argued the increase would make a difference in service.

Still, the SFMTA is open to the 10 cent fee for a “start,” the agency told the San Francisco Examiner.

“We think that it could be a reasonable starting point, although it’s hard to know for sure because (ride-hail) trip data is not made publicly available,” said Kate Toran, head of taxi services at the SFMTA, in a statement. “We would anticipate that the (California Public Utilities Commission) would increase the fee if $.10 proves to be too low to adequately fund the accessible services.”

In its arguments to state regulators, Uber advocated for the program to start only in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“The (California Public Utilities Commission) decision goes against the intent of the original legislation,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement regarding the commission’s plans to implement a statewide program. “A more effective program to address the needs of riders with a disability in California would be to encourage investment in (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle) infrastructure and target areas that most need the service.”

But SFMTA and disability advocates told state regulators declining to collect and distribute funds in all areas of the state “unfairly excludes persons with disabilities” in certain geographic areas who may benefit from wheelchair accessible vehicles.

Lyft, for its part, supported the state regulators’ decision.

“Lyft supports the proposed decision reached by the CPUC and is always looking for ways to expand our offerings,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement.

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