At this point, most of us have either used, or certainly are aware of, the various ride-sharing services that exist in San Francisco, such as Uber, Lyft and SideCar. These ride-sharing companies, also known as “transportation network companies,” are thriving in San Francisco because they are filling a market demand, which unfortunately was not being met by our traditional taxicab companies.
Over the past few years, one of the biggest advancements in the technology community has been the burgeoning “sharing economy,” which is revolutionizing many parts of our lives. For the car service industry, these popular ride-sharing services have truly revolutionized consumer behavior. Instead of calling ahead for a taxicab that may or may not arrive on time, why not tap a few buttons on your smartphone and receive text messages letting you know exactly when your car will arrive? Why be forced to provide a physical address to a central dispatch system when these applications can locate you seamlessly through GPS?
We all have horror stories about long waits for taxicabs in San Francisco, or worse, being stood up while having to miss important meetings, or time with family and friends. In the era of smartphones, our taxi dispatch system is quickly becoming outdated. Technology has enabled much more innovative solutions to an increasingly antiquated industry to meet the demands of our residents.
At the same time, I don’t believe we should demonize or blame taxicab drivers who are simply trying to make a living. They work long hours and endure a challenging work environment to provide for their families, and I believe our city government should continue to promote the growth and health of our local taxicab industry.
In government, we should embrace emerging innovations such as ride sharing services, not fear them. In City Hall I have made it a priority to embrace new and emerging technologies that have shown the capacity to deliver better services and improve our quality of life in San Francisco, and ultimately I believe both ride sharing companies and our taxicab industry have the ability to thrive concurrently, and continue to deliver real value to our residents.
Regulations discussed and proposed
A recent hearing was held here at City Hall in response to the tragic accident that occurred on New Year’s Eve in the Tenderloin neighborhood when an Uber driver tragically struck and killed 6-year-old Sophia Liu. The hearing was held to discuss public safety and insurance concerns related to these various ride-sharing companies, so that we in local government could have a proper understanding of how these ride-sharing companies are keeping our residents and their drivers and passengers safe.
The hearing itself was appropriate, as public and local officials should have every assurance that these companies are not posing a threat to public safety. The discussions around further regulation that would effectively cap or end the possibility of these types of services has been less than appropriate.
After the hearing, some of my colleagues publicly stated that they would explore moving forward with further regulations, or even worse, capping the number of cars these ride sharing services could have on the streets of San Francisco at any given time. Regulations that are appropriate make sense – capping or eliminating service simply does not.
There are legal questions and concerns also at play in this debate. The California Public Utilities Commission (CAPUC) is the state entity that is responsible for regulating these companies. It is questionable whether we in local government have any authority whatsoever to further regulate, cap, or eliminate any of these ride-sharing companies. The CAPUC has undergone an extensive public rulemaking process, which I have supported, that has provided a set of regulations for these companies to legally operate under. We should allow the proper time for the CAPUC rules to be evaluated and further analyzed before proposing additional excessive regulations.
Embrace innovation, don’t discourage it
Our regulations must continue to protect consumers, but also must adapt to shifts in technology and consumer demand in order to stay in tune with the times. San Francisco in particular has a unique opportunity to harness the booming technology industry in our city, and embrace technology services and platforms that not only improve the everyday lives of our residents, but the way we operate our government as well.
Technology has cleared the path for new companies such as these ride-sharing services to find creative ways to offer competitive and efficient options for local transportation. Elected officials and regulators alike should support small business innovation — it is something to embrace, not run away from. Threatening these companies with excessive regulations and to shut them down ultimately does a disservice to the constituency government aims to serve – the general public. We should all demand better.