Several dozen activists gathered in the rain at 16th and Mission Streets Monday evening to demand a more equitable, accessible and environmentally friendly transportation system in San Francisco and the Bay Area.
This was the first demonstration of a relatively new coalition of activists — composed of groups like South of Market Community Action Network, United to Save the Mission, Senior and Disability Action, the SF Taxi Workers Alliance and Mission Neighborhood Centers.
Their demands: free Muni, generally better service, better accessibility for seniors and people with disabilities, no private shuttles in public bus lanes, higher pay for transit workers, and affordable housing near transit stations.
They waved signs that read: “Transit Justice For All — Make Muni affordable” and “Wherever you go, whatever you do, Uber may be watching.”
“Whose city? Our city!” they chanted as rain fell on the plaza.
Some excoriated the proliferation of dockless bike companies like Jump, and scooter startups like Scoot and Skip — all of which the city permits to operate in the city. “It seems like we went to bed and woke up with bikes and scooters at our doorstep everywhere,” said Carlos Bocanegra, an organizer with the activist group United to Save the Mission.
Mary Strope, one of the organizers behind Monday’s rally, said the idea for a a new coalition of organizers for transit equity had been brewing for several months. Their first meeting was Jan. 4 and, according to Strope, had a “good turnout.” The rally was the culmination of these meetings, Strope said, and a precursor to bigger events.
Strope said the idea was to bring out ideas on how democratize the streets and make sure people are all on equal footing. Often times, she said, residents feel like lab animals as tech companies try out new products in the city, like rental scooters.
“The way these things are rolled out are like any other tech experiment,” Strope said. “But I think people would like to see more publicly operated options.”
Strope said her group feels the public needs to be a lot more involved in the processes.
“I can see where they fill the gaps for Muni, but it needs to be more equitable,” Strope said.
The disruption of newcomer transportation companies to San Francisco have had dire effects on taxi services as well. Peter Miller, who spoke at the rally, said the addition of Uber and Lyft and other ride-hailing services had driven taxi cab drivers out of the city and created a wild frenzy of congestion and drivers in the city.
“Taxi drivers started getting pushed out of the city 10 to 15 years ago,” Miller said. “They used to be able to make a decent living, now what?”
“If the taxi cabs are doing what we need, why do we need Uber and Lyft? The only reason people are doing Uber and Lyft is because they can’t make enough at their primary job,” Miller said.
Preston Rhea was one of the attendees at the rally. A bicyclist, Rhea said some of his acquaintances have been injured by the thousands of private vehicles on the city’s roads. One friend, he said, was hit by a door and spent six months immobilized. He believes the roads are not currently equal for bicyclists and motorists, in part because some ride-hailing service drivers use the red lanes meant for taxis and buses across the city.
“The fact that laws are not enforced for Lyfts and Ubers when they go in the red lanes also just means it’s more their streets than it is our streets. We need streets that are going to be primarily equitable for those of us that are not protected by hunks of metal or on public transit,” Rhea said.
According to Strope, the coalition has another meeting scheduled for Friday.