Lax rideshare regulations put drivers, passengers, and pedestrians at risk
And as the Guardian previously reported ("Driven to Take Risks," 8/6/13), rideshare drivers don't qualify for commercial insurance since their vehicles are registered as private automobiles, yet insurance companies won't grant complete insurance coverage to TNC drivers since it's considered an insufficient safeguard against risk.
Notably, limo drivers who also work for Uber (and get commercial insurance through those companies) don't have this problem — just those using Uber or other rideshare apps as independent contractors. Taxi drivers are also eligible for commercial coverage.
Is there any way for an independent TNC driver to legally insure him/herself on the road? "Not that I'm aware of," said Patrick Storm, a spokesperson for the Department of Insurance.
Paul Marron is an attorney for the Taxicab Paratransit Association of California, the group suing the CPUC to tighten up its regulations. In his view, a key test of the new CPUC regulations is whether they're enforced — and with a bare bones staff, enforcement is likely to be anemic.
"The CPUC does not have the adequate resources to regulate (transportation) safety statewide," he told us.
As a lawyer for taxi interests competing against rideshares, Marron obviously has skin in the game, so we looked at the numbers.
We compared the staff counts of the SFMTA, the CPUC, and for some perspective, the New York City Taxi Commission.
The SFMTA has 15 employees who oversee San Francisco's 1,850 taxi cabs. That's one staff person for every 123 cabs in the city. The NYC Taxi Commission's staff of 569 oversees 94,500 taxis, town cars and similar liveries, according to their posted annual report. Though the numbers are greater than San Francisco, the ratio is similar: One staff person for every 166 vehicles.
Now for the CPUC. Though it is now tasked with overseeing "rideshare" TNC vehicles, the agency is also responsible for regulating limos and town cars statewide. Public documents obtained by the Guardian show it oversees 1,900 liveries in the Bay Area, and though there are no official numbers, there are an estimated 3,000 rideshare drivers in the city, according to data compiled by the San Francisco Cab Driver's Association.
The CPUC has a staff of six based in San Francisco, responsible for overseeing an estimated 4,900 vehicles. That leaves the CPUC with one staffer for every 700 vehicles, a ratio wildly out of sync with other vehicle safety regulators.
Hayashi pleaded with the CPUC to allow cities to regulate rideshares on the local level, saying, "You don't even have the resources to monitor this stuff."
Sup. Eric Mar met repeatedly with the SFMTA over these concerns, and will hold a February hearing to get to the heart of the safety culture around San Francisco's TNC rideshares.
CPUC spokesperson Christopher Chow defended its safety regulations and enforcement. "We can clarify or modify our TNC requirements, if needed, particularly the insurance requirements, as we see how the TNCs attempt to comply with the decision's directives," Chow wrote in an email. "If we believe there are any issues that should be addressed, we will take action."
But as things stand, Claire Fahrbach, Giselle Gyalzen, Jason Herrera, Nikolas Kolintas and the family of Sofia Liu are all waiting for that action.
Reed Nelson contributed to this report.