Willie Brown Proposes Rideshare Policy That Will Benefit ... Willie Brown

Rolling out the same talking points...
It stands to reason that BART would have to ferry a surfeit of cranky passengers during any massive San Francisco convention, such as the annual Salesforce trade show in late November. But the Salesforce crowd had something new to complain about: BART's competition.

It turns out that many Millbrae-bound BART riders would have taken Uber instead, had the service not been cost-prohibitive. Because Uber uses surge pricing to raise fares at times of high demand, trips cost up to twice as much during Dreamforce. The chorus of grumblings eventually reached the ear of former mayor Willie Brown, who addressed them in his San Francisco Chronicle column on Saturday.

Brown proposed a solution: Yoke all transit app-makers to the city's transit regulator, so they can play by the same rules as taxis. "They would have to justify their fares, just as cab drivers have to justify theirs," Brown writes, failing to acknowledge that he also has skin in the game.

In fact, Willie Brown might indirectly benefit from stronger regulation of rideshare pricing, given that his client, the app service Tickengo, is one of the smaller players in the industry.

Unlike Uber, Tickengo has no plans to ever implement a dynamic pricing scheme, says the company's CEO Geoff Mathieux, who employed Brown as counsel for a series of proceedings before the California Public Utilities Commission. "During Salesforce, we were offering the opposite of the other guys," Mathieux explains. "We were offering $5 coupons off."

Tickengo characterizes itself as a populist iteration of the rideshare model, a service whose flat rates aren't wildly different from those of public transportation carriers. It's used that position to argue for revenue caps on the industry at large -- rules which, if implemented, would level the playing field between the small start-up and its bigger competitors.

Brown pushed that argument forward at a CPUC hearing last January, in which he proposed that all "pure" rideshare services limit driver revenues to $8,776 per year, which is the American Automobile Association's official cost of owning a vehicle. By hewing to that limit, Tickengo distinguishes itself from commercial networks like Uber, Brown wrote in a filing.

Although the CPUC ultimately rejected Brown's proposal for a two-tiered system that would separate Tickengo from Uber and Lyft, Brown evidently hasn't abandoned his talking points -- he's now using his Chron column to present what's essentially a reheated legal brief.

But he may have a sympathetic ear at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, whose Director of Taxis and Accessible Services, Christiane Hayashi, also believes that pricing transparency is one of the keystones of a fair metro transit system.

"When you get into a TNC vehicle, the price is set by an algorithm that is entirely within the control of one particular app company, and is protected proprietary information that is not subject to public disclosure," Hayashi writes, via e-mail. She says the opaqueness and complexity of surge pricing are making people "appreciate the value that a real taxi provides," even if they don't appreciate BART, yet.

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