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Ride-Hailing 'Indispensable' in Metro Transit, Says SF Official

Without Uber and Lyft, congestion and parking would be "much worse," says Supervisor Scott Wiener.

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At Uber’s five-year anniversary party in June, there was one long-limbed man who towered above the crowd and didn’t quite fit with the sea of investors, employees and press — San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener. He seemed to be the only politician on hand to celebrate the ride-hailing company’s flashy anniversary. Likewise, weeks later he appeared to be the only government representative to stop by Lyft’s anniversary happy hour.

“I was invited and I went to both,” he said when I asked why he was there.

Wiener is downplaying his significance. As the chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, he’s had a hand in smoothing over Lyft and Uber’s relationships with the local government from their earliest days. He even got a shout-out from Uber co-founder Garrett Camp, who publicly thanked Wiener for attending the anniversary party.

Wiener is currently battling for a seat in the state Senate, with the hopes of changing transportation policy at a higher level. We sat down with him to talk about whether Uber and Lyft are hurting public transit, where they need to get their act together and whether he’s Team Uber or Team Lyft.

Why did you decide to take on transit as one of your big issues in local government?

It’s my main way of getting around, I’ve been a daily Muni rider for 18 years now since I moved here in ‘97. I see what happens personally when transit works and doesn’t work — what it means for a city and a region when you’re growing by leaps and bounds and congestion is getting worse and your transit systems are ancient and don’t have the capacity to keep up with the growth.

Would you say you’re a champion of the ride-hailing companies?

I always try to get a cab first, and if I can’t, then I go get a ride-share. I support ride-sharing. They’ve been indispensable to the growth of the city.

Could the cheaper carpooling versions of the products, Lyft Line and UberPool, replace public transit? Are they Muni’s savior or its destruction?

UberPool and Lyft Line makes ride-sharing accessible to a lot more people of moderate income or lower income. It also addresses one of our challenges around late-night transportation. We’re trying to improve transit at night, but it’s never going to be as good as during the day. For workers getting off late with lots of cash, to have UberPool or Lyft Line where they pay four to five dollars, they can do that every night.

What would SF transit look like now if Uber and Lyft hadn’t come along?

I think we would have much worse congestion and parking problems because more people would feel the need to have their car around with them. It would be really bad because with population growth at this point today, it would be almost impossible to get a cab.

I think you were the only local politician at Uber’s five-year anniversary and Lyft’s first-ever cocktail hour for press. Why?

I can’t say why other people weren’t there. I go to small businesses in my district, I think it’s important for us to be connected to businesses that are employing people.

If you could change one thing about the way ride-share companies do business, what would it be?

It’s challenging for people to know what the cost is going to be. That’s true for cabs too, but at least it’s a fixed structure. Even if they tell you ahead of time it’s surge pricing, it’s hard to know. I do want to get a handle on the regulation of these services. We want them to be legitimized and part of our transportation system and economy, but we’re in a period of flux, whether it’s labor standards or background checks or other regulatory issues that I think will be resolved.

Is that why you’re running for state Senate?

If you look at the work I do at the board, it centers around sustainability, housing, transportation, looking at the future of sustainability of the city and the region. A lot of that work is happening at a much bigger level in Sacramento. So much of what is happening locally is dramatically impacted by the decisions in Sacramento.

Who is funding your Senate run? Are Uber and Lyft backing you?

Our first disclosure is next January. Unfortunately there is no public financing for state races.

Last question: Are you Team Lyft or Team Uber?

I’ll plead the Fifth.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.