No CEQA review for Uber

Zelda Bronstein : 48hills – excerpt

City admits that the impact of all these new cars on the streets doesn’t qualify as an environmental impact

Our March 13 story about San Francisco’s replacement of traffic congestion as an environmental impact with the number of vehicle miles traveled that a new project is expected to generate (VMT), elicited an interesting comment:


What’s impossible to measure, and has skirted any CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] study, is the increased traffic from Uber (14,000 drivers by its own admission), Lyft (ditto), Chariot (privatizing Muni), tech buses, and all manner of poverty-gig deliveries: Postmates, TaskRabbit, Munchery, Caviar, Sprig, InstaCart, Breeze, OrderAhead, SpoonRocket, Lugg, WorkGenius, Eat24, Instawash, etc., not to mention Amazon one-hour delivery, Safeway, and on and on.

Rich folks can stay in the condo and own no car, while a Shanghai-like cesspool of traffic roars below. Crave a cup of gourmet yogurt? Poor saps will underbid each other for the privilege of double-parking in gridlock and rushing it to your lobby in hopes of a tip.

I know this is slightly off topic, but this is what’s really happening on the streets of SF.

It seemed right on topic to me, and I forwarded Ragazzu’s remarks to 48 hills editor Tim Redmond. He emailed back:

I can tell you from personal experience that there are many thousands more cars on the city streets thanks to Uber. I can’t even ride my bike home on Valencia, where there’s a bike lane, on a Friday or Saturday night because the Ubers block the bike lane and swerve in and out of traffic.

This is a nice irony. Many of the same organizations that support the replacement of traffic congestion as an environmental impact by vehicle miles traveled—Greenbelt Alliance, TransForm, the Natural Resources Defense Council—also laud Uber and other so-called transportation network companies (TNCs) for potentially reducing millions of single-occupancy vehicle car trips and greenhouse gas emissions. Now it turns out that the TNCs are not only clogging San Francisco’s streets—that’s fine by these groups—but also blocking bicycle lanes—presumably not fine by them…

I got an email from Planning Department Communications Manager Gina Simi saying that Wietgrefe and San Francisco Director of Environmental Planning Sarah Jones had asked her to tell me, astonishingly, that the traffic generated by TNCs and app-based delivery services is not a CEQA issue, which is to say, it is not potentially subject to an Environmental Impact Report and lawsuit…

The Environmental Planning division of the Planning Department assesses the environmental impacts of projects/approvals/legislation that are proposed by private sponsors and/or City departments for approval.  The activities you mention, such as TNCs or app-based delivery services, are not subject to permits or approvals for their operations.  Therefor CEQA is not part of the equation for their operations in that we have no basis to assess their impacts under CEQA.  If a company that provides such services is seeking some sort of approvals in the future that are connected to their operations, we would try to calculate the VMT that would result...

Meanwhile, San Francisco Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting are supporting AB 828, which would exempt TNC drivers from needing commercial license plates, by “exclud[ing] from the definition of ‘motor vehicles’” any vehicle that is

  • operated in connection with a transportation network company that is
  • operated for passenger service only and is limited to seven passengers excluding the driver;
  • operated exclusively by the person to whom the vehicle is registered or insured;
  • not a paratransit vehicle not operated for public transit services;
  • not operated for school bus services… (more)

Comments at the source are appreciated.

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