Ticket to deride: Sacramento labor group, RT clash over new ride-sharing partnership

Station Link Program offers discounted ride-sharing fares on Golden 1 Center event days

This is an extended version of a story that ran in the October 13, 2016, issue.

A program meant to bolster light-rail usage in the suburbs has drawn criticism from labor interests who say it will benefit ride-sharing companies at the expense of low-income transit riders and industry workers.

The new Station Link Program launched with the opening of the Golden 1 Center on October 5. A partnership between Sacramento Regional Transit, Uber, Lyft and Yellow Cab, Station Link offers $5 off fares to or from select light-rail stations on event dates, up to 10 trips per rider, when riders use promo code “SACRT” through the Uber, Lyft or Curb apps.

While lauded by RT as efficient transportation consolidation in an already heavily congested area, the Sacramento Central Labor Council claimed the ride-hailing services engaged in exploitative practices.

“When a public agency is contracting with companies that have a notorious reputation of not just exploiting the workforce, but also not even recognizing that these folks are their employees, that’s an issue for us,” said SCLC Executive Director Fabrizio Sasso.

Sasso was referring to partly ongoing litigation brought against both Uber and Lyft by drivers who claim they have been unfairly misclassified as independent contractors, and want compensation for fuel and auto maintenance. In June, U.S. Northern District of California Judge Vince Chhabria approved a $27 million settlement on behalf of Lyft drivers who sued to be classified as employees. The settlement had been increased from $12.5 million after Chhabria rejected the original amount as too low. In August, Judge Edward Chen, of the same court in San Francisco, denied a $100 million settlement offer from Uber following a similar three-year lawsuit, also on the grounds that it was too low.

Additionally, Sasso contended the program would incentivize car use and questioned its environmental benefits.

RT spokeswoman Susan Bitar denied the lawsuits posed an issue for the ride-incentive program and dismissed claims that it wasn’t environmentally friendly, saying it will reduce the overall number of vehicles on the road.

“Certainly the idea is to take cars off the road; and oftentimes when you take a ride sharing-ride-hailing company, you’re not alone,” Bitar explained. “So that in and of itself will tempt people away from having one person in a car driving solo.”

The program is funded through a $50,000 grant from the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District—part of a federally-funded $2.2 million Fleet Modernization Program—with administrative assistance from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

Bitar called the program a unique partnership of public and private entities. It will run until the budget is used up after 10,000 redemptions or until March 21, 2017, whichever comes first.

Because they require the use of smartphone apps, Sasso argued those redemptions would cater to people in higher socioeconomic brackets, rather than the people who use RT most.