From autonomous vehicles to bike- and scooter-sharing, the city has needed to quickly adapt to change or risk losing out on innovations. But a new framework could soon be underway to simplify processes and encourage public-private partnerships.
(TNS) — The next time a startup with a nifty idea tries to unleash a transportation innovation on city streets, San Francisco hopes to be ready with a framework that includes a permitting system and adheres to goals such as collecting data, increasing disability access and reducing congestion.
That’s among recommendations in an “Emerging Mobility” report released Thursday by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.
“We want to create a situation where we can proactively partner with companies, so we’re not governing by fire drill,” Warren Logan, the agency’s senior planner, said in reference to the scramble ignited by the recent influx of motorized stand-up scooters for rent.
Three companies, Spin, LimeBike and Bird, deposited hundreds of the two-wheelers on city sidewalks in late March without government approval. Although many riders enthusiastically hopped on board, pedestrians and others complained about blocked sidewalks. San Francisco, which lacked laws for the vehicles, rushed to respond — impounding improperly parked or ridden scooters, issuing cease-and-desist orders to the companies, and then on Tuesday adopting a one-year pilot plan that creates a permit system and caps the number of scooters.
Besides the e-scooters, San Francisco is awash in all kinds of “emerging mobility” services, including bike sharing (Ford GoBike, Jump), scooter sharing (Scoot), car sharing (Turo, Getaround, Maven, Zipcar), carpooling (Scoop, Waze Carpool), commuter vans (Chariot), ride-hailing (Uber and Lyft), autonomous-vehicle testing (Cruise Automation), and courier services (Caviar, Good Eggs, Grubhub, Instacart, Postmates, Omni, Amazon’s Flex).
It’s pretty much guaranteed that other disruptive transportation ideas will come along.
“I don’t even want to speculate what it will be — dockless jet packs?” said Jeff Hobson, the transportation authority’s head of planning. Whatever it is, the goal is to be ready with a comprehensive strategy “that says, ‘Here’s how to work with the city. Please come talk to us before you land, and we commit to work on it expeditiously.’”
Companies that partner with the city make life easier for everyone, the two planners said, citing examples such as the Jump dockless e-bike service, which got an exclusive permit before starting service here and has now been acquired by Uber.
Of course, the biggest examples of disruptive mobility are Uber and Lyft, both of which barreled into San Francisco and other cities without asking for permission and now have thousands of cars on the streets. Because they are regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission, the ride-hailing companies are fairly impervious to San Francisco-specific rules, but the city may be able to dangle incentives to win cooperation on its goals.
“The city has a lot of assets these companies want to use, whether that’s roadways or curbs or sidewalks,” Hobson said. “I think we can come up with a curb-management strategy that works better than the status quo.”
Because Uber and Lyft would like more designated drop-off/pickup spots, they may be willing to do something in return, such as providing more data or giving more training to drivers, he said.
Besides getting startups to play nice, San Francisco has a range of other transit goals. They include collecting comprehensive data from mobility companies; ensuring access for disabled people, late-night riders and residents of underserved areas; supporting public transit expansion; enforcing safety such as the Vision Zero goal to end all traffic deaths; and managing congestion on the street, sidewalks and curbs.
San Francisco may consider congestion pricing, charging more for peak-period road use in core areas, a strategy used in New York, Seattle and London.
“We’ll seek guidance from the board on whether and how to implement such a strategy,” Logan said.
“Over the past decade, we’ve seen a lot of different services popping up on our streets,” Logan said. The agency developed 10 guiding principles so that when new services arise, “We can say, ‘Hey, here’s what we stand for’ and evaluate how the services perform against our goals.”
©2018 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.