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SF takes Lyft, Uber to court over ‘public nuisance’

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City attorney demands rideshare companies turn over internal records

On Friday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced that his office had petitioned San Francisco Superior Court to require Lyft and Uber to surrender internal documents about its drivers, as the city determines whether it can take action against the ride-hailing companies as potential “public nuisances.”

Herrera seeks records going back to 2013 regarding drivers who commute from other cities, how many hours they spend on SF streets, what sort of training the companies employ, and which routes are most common.

The two tech companies, Herrera’s office alleges, consume a huge chunk amount of roadway resources but don’t always serve the general public, neglecting key neighborhoods.

Via a press release, Herrera said:

“The status quo is not working. [...] There’s no question that Uber and Lyft offer convenience. But convenience for some cannot trump the rights of every San Francisco resident and visitor, including the safe enjoyment of our roads and bike lanes. I’m trying to strike the right balance here.”

The court petition is meant to force both companies into complying with subpoenas the City Attorney’s office issued in June.

A white car with an Uber logo painted on the side in Moscow. Vaalaa

In response to those subpoenas, Uber told Forbes in June, “We’re happy to work with the city to address congestion” but complained that City Hall singled them out over factors like construction delays.

A Lyft rep said, “[We] have a track record of working collaboratively with policymakers who regulate us.”

Uber later explained to Silicon Beat that ridesharing accounts for only two percent of trips taken in San Francisco, citing an unidentified 2015 report. In 2016, an SFTMA survey concluded that the figure was closer to four percent.

But in June of this year, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority released its own study and concluded that ride-hailing app companies generate as much as 20 percent of San Francisco traffic most days, by way of an average estimated 5,700 drivers, less than 30 percent of whom live in San Francisco.

That same analysis found that at the busiest hours, Lyft and Uber drivers make up as much as 26 percent of traffic in neighborhoods like SoMa or the Financial District, but only four percent in places like Bayview and the Sunset.

Which is to say, accounts vary. The two companies’ internal documents would presumably provide a more consistent view of driver behavior, but only if the courts favor Herrera’s efforts and demand their release.

Roman Tiraspolsky