BY KEITH B. JONES | January 18, 2019

A larger-than-life tributary bronze statue of the great Willie Mays stands at the western corner of Giants’ baseball stadium in San Francisco. It’s the perfect place to honor one of the city’s and the sport’s most iconic players, but many rideshare customers also see the statue—or rather curb nearby it—as the perfect drop-off point on their way to catch a ball game.

That curb happens to be at the intersection of King St., one of the primary transit arteries in the South of Market area.

On game days, Lyft and Uber drivers block the flow of traffic (much of it coming directly off the I-280 interstate) on and around King St. as they wait for fans to jump in or out. When the home team is in town, traffic up and down from Oracle Park hits a ten out of ten on the unbearable scale.

This not only makes the journey to Giants’ games slow and monotonous, but it significantly impedes traffic flow between the I-280 and The Embarcadero, which amplifies the downstream problems of San Francisco’s congestion, the 5th worst in the nation.

The city needs to act swiftly and smartly to change riders’ behavior by incentivising them towards various other drop-off points away from the stadium’s main intersections. Otherwise, what seems convenient today will soon be anything but.

FIXING A PROBLEM THAT SHOULDN’T EXIST

Unfortunately, a homerun solution (one that appeases consumers and TNCs while alleviating traffic) doesn’t exist. Or, if it does, it’s either not evident or not feasible.

One of the most immediate and beneficial solutions to game-day traffic around the stadium is to institute a city-regulated surcharge, or congestion fee, for all TNC (transportation network company, such as Lyft and Uber) rides in the vicinity of the Say Hey Kid’s statue.

Geofences are dynamic virtual perimeters around real geographic areas, such as municipalities, city blocks or, yes, landmark statues.

Airports coast to coast already use geofencing as a way to regulate where TNCs can and cannot operate while waiting for rides or to pick up or drop off passengers. Many of these same airports likewise implement mandatory surcharges, usually categorized as a security fee.

Beyond airports, multiple venues (including numerous favorites around San Francisco) employ both geofencing and surcharges to regulate traffic congestion.

So, why not apply this strategy around Oracle Park?

Any rides starting or ending within a close perimeter to the stadium would incur a surcharge. Riders willing to pay the surcharge could by all means get picked up at, or very near to, the stadium’s curb. Those wanting to pay normal rates would hail a ride as close as one block away, where traffic flow will be less obstructed.

Better yet, the surcharge will more than likely encourage would-be TNC customers to walk, cycle, or use one of the multiple mass transit options within a baseball’s throw of the stadium. Skeptical? A widely cited UC Davis study showed that “49%-61% of ride-hailing trips would have not been made at all, or by walking, biking, or transit.”

Are congestion surcharges popular? No. But they do work.

This idea is no different to event parking rates: the closer you are to the show, the more you’ll pay to park.

If you recognize this as the basic principle of supply and demand, you get a point.

You’re probably aware that rideshare companies already surge prices when rider demand exceeds driver availability. But, instead of a model where “riders pay more or wait”, as Uber states on its website, the Willie Mays Mobility Model would be a “pay more or walk a block” approach.

A FAIR GAME FOR ALL

I’m by no means the first to propose geofenced surcharges as a strategy to vehicular congestion. A similar proposal is making headlines in Manhattan. Realistically, surcharges are among the many changes and regulations that need to happen if we are going to solve congestion on a local and national scale.

TNCs realize this and, even if by legal force, they are changing.

Much in the same way that stock prices are volatile in the days and weeks following an IPO, the rideshare model itself has been in a state of flux since Uber started to expand nationally in 2011. Eight years later, the industry is still in a bit of a free-for-all, and consumers usually are the first to notice. Unfortunately, these changes will continue to affect consumers until the rideshare model hits a happy equilibrium with city goals.

The effects, however, will ultimately benefit everyone.

In San Francisco, revenue from the surcharge fees will help improve mass transit, decrease congestion, and reduce total emissions; stadium-goers will spend fewer total hours sitting in traffic close to Oracle Park; and TNC drivers who get rides within the geofenced area will earn their cut of the price increase.

It’s all part of smart planning for smart cities.

ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS

.305 batting average, 660 home runs, 1,903 RBIs, 338 stolen bases, two National League MVP awards, 12 Gold Glove awards.

Very impressive stats for one of the brightest-shining stars in baseball history. But if we can get the regulations in place to change consumer behavior while benefiting the city for decades to come, Willie Mays’ statue will represent more than just great playing, but historic planning, too.

FINAL THOUGHTS

– Despite not having designated pull off zones, TNC drivers pick up and drop off hundreds of riders in to-close a proximity to the Willie Mays statue at Oracle Park each and every game day. This significantly disrupts congestion in San Francisco’s South Of Market district.

– Surcharges in a one- or two-block geofenced perimeter around the statue could alleviate congestion by incentivizing the majority of riders to be dropped off a block or more away or to use any one of the numerous mass transit options available.

– Surcharges are popular with neither riders nor rideshare companies, but as far as the foreseeable future they’re our best bet to combating destructive vehicular congestion—and they’re just one of the many inevitable changes TNCs will have to enact as policies and regulations catch up to their operative model.

– Ultimately, these changes will benefit pedestrians, TNCs, and San Francisco itself—not just around the city’s famed stadium, but potentially throughout the Bay Area.

– And we’ll all have Willie Mays and his larger than life statue to thank for it.

“Ace Mobility Solutions isn’t just a business. It’s the Mobility Revolution in action.”

Keith B. Jones
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