Public transportation has been transformed by the coronavirus pandemic. San Francisco’s Muni light rail system has been shut for months, and buses are running on core service lines only. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Director Jeffrey Tumlin and Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum joined “Civic” to explain how Muni has adapted to the pandemic and some of the changes ahead.
Uber and Lyft were expected to shut down service at 11:59 p.m. tonight as a court ruling forcing them to reclassify drivers as employees was set to go into effect. With just hours to spare, an appeals court judge granted the companies a reprieve. “Civic” spoke with two drivers who want employee protections.
Drivers for Uber and Lyft staged a car caravan and rally outside Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s home last week to protest their classification as contractors despite a California law, AB5, which the state says defines such drivers as employees. “It’s personal for me, it’s personal for all these drivers, because our lives are directly affected by it,” said driver Edan Alva. “My ability to pay for my son’s health insurance, my ability to put food on the table, all these drivers’ ability to exist in a balanced way, in a dignified way, where they live, is dependent on labor protections.”
Cherri Murphy. Laura Wenus / Public Press
The drivers, affiliated with groups including Gig Workers Rising and We Drive Progress, were also there to call on Uber to withdraw support for a ballot measure backed by Uber, Lyft and DoorDash that would exempt drivers for these services from AB5’s requirements. The measure, which will be on the November 2020 ballot, would also require that drivers be paid more than minimum wage and would require health care coverage for drivers who work at least 15 hours per week.
Muni is running only a core system of buses with no rail lines in service. But around 100,000 people still ride every day. Cat Carter, interim executive director of the San Francisco Transit Riders, hasn’t been on Muni in months, but she and others in the organization have kept busy.
San Francisco is closing several streets as part of an extension of the stay-home order in a move that addresses some criticism of a street-closure plan announced last week. The action applies to streets in Golden Gate and McLaren Parks. Last week, a Tenderloin street was also closed to through traffic.
Some city officials are dissatisfied with new transit rules that are intended to help pedestrians follow social-distancing guidelines by stepping into streets when necessary. Through its new Slow Streets Program, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will begin closing some streets to through traffic, freeing up space so that maintaining six feet of separation is easier.
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At San Francisco’s cable car barn on Mason Street, the large looms of wire that power one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions used to produce a loud, uninterrupted whirring. Now, the building’s interior is so quiet it’s unnerving.
We set out to document how people’s experience using public transportation in San Francisco would change after Muni suspended service on all but 17 of 79 lines.
Oakland joined the street-shutdown movement Thursday with its announced plan to close 74 miles of streets to through traffic. San Francisco could follow suit, but it stands out as a laggard.
As the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency makes drastic cuts to service to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, drivers are fearful and feel exposed. Five cases have been confirmed among Muni workers.
The California Public Utilities Commission, the body that regulates ride-hailing, has unanimously voted to reverse a policy that allowed safety reports filed by Uber and Lyft to be kept hidden from the public.