Lyft to take on Muni routes


In an announcement that could transform transportation policy in San Francisco, the startup company Lyft is prepared to take over some of the most crowded and dysfunctional Muni routes in San Francisco.

Mayor Ed Lee and the Municipal Transportation Agency have approved a plan that would turn the 38 Geary, 30 Stockton, and 14 Mission over to the tech startup, City Hall sources told us. The plan is still tentative and the Mayor’s Office is trying to keep it tightly under wraps until the financial details are complete.

However, documents provided to the Guardian show that Lyft would buy at least 68 buses, including 12 articulated vehicles, at a price still to be negotiated. In exchange, the city would give the company – known for its pink mustaches on illegal taxi cabs – exclusive rights to operate on the heavily-used lines.

Lyft is developing an  app that would allow customers not only to view approaching buses but to book specific seats for an additional  price. Sensors in the bus seats will emit an electronic buzz to alert passengers that their seats had been purchased by someone else, warning them to vacate by the next stop. If the passengers remain, they will feel a sharp electric shock.

Lee’s office said the plan is similar to the market-based parking-meter program that raises the price of a space in times of heavy demand.

“The free market solves so many problems,” Christine Falvey, spokesperson for Lee, told us. “And it’s pretty clear that too many people who don’t really need to sit down or who are perfectly capable of waiting for a later conveyance are taking up space on the most crowded buses.”

Ron Conway, the venture capitalist who is Lee’s closest ally in the business community, will invest as much as $40 million in the new venture, Silicon Valley sources say.  If the trial public-private partnership works, he’s prepared to raise money to buy out Muni and turn the city’s bus system into a private operation.

“You’ve got a captive market, and demand-based pricing is what’s happening these days,” Falvey said.  “It’s just the next step.”