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Lyft endorses Wiener’s California transit housing bill

“Studies show the closer you live to transit or a job, the less likely you are to drive or own a car”

Lyft At Its San Francisco Headquarters Showcasing Lyft Cars, The Glowstache, The Lyft App, Lyft Passengers And Drivers Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Lyft

State Senator Scott Wiener’s transit-based housing bill SB 827 has had a rough go of it in recent weeks as more California cities turn their noses up at the plan, which would severely curtail the zoning limits municipalities can place on parcels near major transit lines, leading to taller and denser housing.

Last week the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted its nominal disapproval of the measure. Previously, lawmakers in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Cupertino, Lafayette, and Milpitas voiced their disgruntlement as well.

However, Wiener’s plan did get an unlikely endorsement today: Lyft CEO Logan Green sent a letter of support for the bill to the senator’s office.

The message, which a Lyft spokesperson emailed to Curbed SF, reads in part:

For too long, we’ve built cities around cars at such low densities and access to transit that people have no choice but to own cars and drive. As a result, we’ve created a housing crisis that manifests as a transportation crisis.

Studies show the closer you live to transit or a job, the less likely you are to drive or own a car. But it is becoming harder to afford housing near these locations, which pushes people farther from work and forces them into long vehicle commutes.

As an indicator of how few Californians see transit as a viable choice for commuting right now, fully 65 percent of Bay Area commuters drive by themselves, with the number rising to 75 percent among Los Angeles commuters.

Some of the consequences of this crisis are obvious. Today, Los Angeles is the most congested city in the world and San Francisco is fifth. Transportation costs—the vast majority of which go towards owning and maintaining personal cars—is second only to housing in top household expenses for Californians.

[...] We founded Lyft with the goal of making car ownership optional and believe SB 827 will make that a reality for many Californians.

Logan’s claim about 65 percent of Bay Area commuters driving solo might in reference to a 2015 survey by True North Research, which determined that between 65 and 69 percent of local drivers ride alone.

Different studies and surveys return various figures for this statistic; however, they’re all pretty high. For example, in 2016 the Bay Area Council reported that some 70 percent of those polled said driving alone was their primary mode of transit.

The claim that SF is the world’s fifth most congested city refers to traffic analysis firm INRIX’s 2018 traffic scorecard, which identified Los Angeles as the world’s worst when it comes to traffic and SF as a top finisher.

INRIX measured how many hours per year the average commuter spends in traffic during peak hours. Different methods, like compiling the average commute time, usually finds cities in India, South Africa, and the Philippines more congested.

A draft map by the SF Planning Commission showing SB 827’s potential effect on San Francisco. Tan and yellow areas are prone to potential upzoning under the law.

The California Budget and Policy Center (a private research group based in Sacramento) does indeed calculate that transit costs are the number-two expense for a single person in California, although for households with children other expenses may outpace transit.

The Lyft endorsement seems non sequitur, given that the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company has little to do with public transit and nothing to do with housing. But it seems that Logan saw an opportunity to burnish Lyft’s “car-free future” marketing pitch by offering Wiener some words of encouragement when so many other parties are sending barbs his way.

Wiener announced a new round of amendments to SB 827 on Tuesday, including reducing the relevant height zoning from a maximum of eight stories down to five and requiring some additional developer concessions on affordable housing.