Uber and Lyft are reshaping transportation in a variety of ways. Whereas abundant taxi service was once available in only Manhattan and a few city centers, the introduction of transportation network companies (TNCs) to cities large and small has enabled a new mode of transportation. The benefits are apparent: TNCs provide easy options to help reduce drunk driving, alleviate parking shortages, assist car-free or car-light living, and support first/last mile trips to transit. Shared TNC trips (via UberPOOL and LyftLine) are increasingly popular, supporting better use of street capacity compared to single-passenger trips. But TNCs have also introduced significant challenges to street safety, particularly for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The density of TNC use along popular commercial corridors and destinations in cities like San Francisco has come into conflict with how streets are designed. With few passenger loading zones and limited enforcement of double parking restrictions, TNC loading has become a free-for all – parking in bus stops, bike lanes, crosswalks, and driveways is commonplace. While TNCs are certainly not the only offenders, the growth of TNC use has contributed to an uptick in such unsafe behaviors.
The reaction to TNCs among livable streets advocates has been a mix of confrontational and collaborative. Some advocates on social media, like the SFMTrA, Parking Dirty SF, and Uber in a Bike Lane, have sought to publicly shame TNCs for unsafe behaviors and advocated for more active enforcement and improvements like protected bike lanes. Other advocacy groups have sought to collaborate with TNCs to achieve changes: the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, in coordination with Uber, has published an instructional video for drivers to share streets with people biking, while Livable City has joined forces with Lyft and Caltrain to “Curb the Caltrain Cluster” at the 4th & King Station.
There isn’t a single solution for cities to effectively accommodate TNCs. Cities could devote more space to passenger loading zones, and there is certainly room for improvement for destinations like Caltrain and BART stations. But this approach is at-odds with the expectation among TNC passengers of door-to-door service, and it may create a backlash if on-street parking is eliminated. More enforcement would help, particularly to serve as a deterrent for TNC drivers that seem to operate above the law, but many problematic TNC behaviors effectively occur in an enforcement gray area. Better education of drivers has promise, but this would require TNCs to take a more active role in assuming responsibility for their drivers. Given the relative youth of TNCs, it may take time to arrive at a set of solutions that achieves safety for everyone.