Herrera issues subpoenas to companies and requests records from state regulator to investigate issues of discrimination, disability access and public safety
SAN FRANCISCO (June 5, 2017) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today issued subpoenas to Uber and Lyft to turn over records on driving practices, disability access and service in San Francisco. Herrera also simultaneously made a public records request to the California Public Utilities Commission for that information. The City Attorney aims to ensure that the two companies’ estimated 45,000 vehicles in San Francisco comply with local and state laws, including ensuring equality of access, and do not jeopardize public safety or create a public nuisance.
The administrative subpoenas seek four years of records in eight categories, including miles and hours logged by drivers, incentives that encourage drivers to “commute” from as far away as Fresno or Los Angeles, driver guidance and training, accessible vehicle information, and the services provided to residents of every San Francisco neighborhood.
“No one disputes the convenience of the ride-hailing industry, but that convenience evaporates when you’re stuck in traffic behind a double-parked Uber or Lyft, or when you can’t get a ride because the vehicle isn’t accessible to someone with a disability or because the algorithm disfavors the neighborhood where you live,” Herrera said. “The status quo is not working. Convenience for some cannot trump the rights of every San Francisco resident and visitor, including the safe enjoyment of our roads and bike lanes. This is a period of historic growth in San Francisco, but our streets can’t get any wider. We need to strike the right balance. Our action today aims to protect San Franciscans by ensuring that these companies comply with state and local law.”
Herrera also emphasized the growing danger posed by “long distance” Uber and Lyft drivers, who “commute” from Southern California or the Central Valley to San Francisco just to begin a shift. A Feb. 18, 2017 San Francisco Chronicle investigation found that such drivers often drive nearly 200 miles before commencing a 12- to 16-hour shift in order to meet goals and earn bonus incentives set by the ride-hailing companies. “These fatigued drivers are not only a threat to themselves, but to San Francisco pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers,” Herrera said. “Policies that encourage or turn a blind eye to drowsy driving by drivers with little or no familiarity with San Francisco’s roads or weather conditions make our city less safe. They are a public nuisance.”
Safety, Accessibility and Climate Goals
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages the city’s streets, bikeways, taxis and transit system, has faced much of the impact from ride-hailing companies.
“We are hearing a growing number of complaints from residents, businesses, and our own traffic enforcement staff and Muni operators about the behavior of these drivers and the congestion and pollution caused by the sheer volume of these vehicles on our city’s streets,” SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said. “As stewards of the city’s transportation system, we need to understand the effects of these private companies and their impact on San Francisco’s transit, safety, accessibility, and climate goals.”
San Francisco is committed to Vision Zero — eliminating traffic deaths by 2024 — and has ambitious environmental targets, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2025.
Public Records Request
The California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, has regulatory authority over the ride-hailing services, which it officially designates as “transportation network companies,” or TNCs. The CPUC requires transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft to file annual reports. But to date the CPUC has not disclosed those reports to the public or to the SFMTA, despite the agency’s long-standing request that it do so.
“The California Public Utilities Commission has an important role to play in regulating Uber and Lyft and setting conditions for their individual drivers,” Herrera said. “San Francisco will not interfere with that role. In fact, our investigation into compliance with provisions of state and local law, including the Unruh Civil Rights Act and California nuisance law, will complement the CPUC’s oversight of ride-hailing companies by ensuring that they comply with these important state laws. The city has an independent obligation to ensure that all San Franciscans are treated equally, that Uber and Lyft comply with San Francisco law, and that public nuisances are abated.”
Herrera’s public records request to the CPUC seeks all of the annual reports Uber and Lyft have submitted since 2013, as well as additional reports or data, including about the companies’:
- effect on traffic congestion or capacity;
- effect on traffic safety, including bicycle and pedestrian safety;
- effect on public transit operations;
- concentration of drivers, vehicles, or rides by geography;
- use or avoidance of bicycle lanes, transit-only lanes, private driveways, or shoulders for passenger pickup or drop-off;
- driver origin points and average distance traveled before commencing a shift;
- use and/or accessibility by low-income riders or households;
- use and/or accessibility by multi-language riders or households;
- service of persons with disabilities;
- effect on greenhouse gas emissions; and
- effect on demand or need for parking in San Francisco.
Herrera has the authority to subpoena witnesses or records in the course of an investigation. Here, he is investigating potential violations of:
- State Civil Code 51, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which requires equal accommodation and services in all business establishments;
- State Civil Code 54, which provides that individuals with disabilities or medical conditions have the same right as the general public to the full and free use of the streets, highways, sidewalks and walkways, among other things;
- State Civil Code 3479, which says that anyone who willfully obstructs the free passage or use of a street or highway, among other things, is a nuisance;
- State Civil Code 3480, which defines a public nuisance as one that affects at the same time “any considerable number of persons”; and
- San Francisco Administrative Code 12V, the Personal Services Minimum Contractual Rate Ordinance, which sets minimum compensation for contractors working more than 20 hours a month.
Uber and Lyft have 15 days to comply with the subpoenas. Failure to do so can result in a finding of contempt and other court-imposed penalties.
The move comes after Herrera filed suit against Uber on May 11 to compel the company to comply with a subpoena from Treasurer José Cisneros. That subpoena requires Uber to provide business records containing driver contact information so city officials can ensure the drivers are registered to do business here. Uber is fighting that subpoena, with the matter scheduled to be heard on June 22 in San Francisco Superior Court.
“We’ve all seen it: cars and bikes swerving to avoid an Uber or Lyft double parked or camped in the bike lane,” Herrera said. “It’s not just a headache. It’s a hazard to everyone using the street.”
“San Francisco has always welcomed ingenuity,” Herrera said, “but it can’t come at the expense of everyone else.”
Additional documentation from the case is available on the City Attorney’s website at: https://www.sfcityattorney.org/.
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