Berkeley City Council approves ballot measure that could tax Uber users

Berkeley City Council Meeting.
Kristen Tamsil/File
Berkeley City Council added a ballot measure that, if approved by voters, would tax users of transportation network companies, and discussed the city's climate resilience plan.

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Berkeley City Council implemented a sustainable transportation road map for the city and approved a measure that, if passed, will tax users of companies such as Uber and Lyft during two special meetings Tuesday.

During the first meeting, the City Council considered several items that would put additional measures on the Nov. 3 ballot. Measures approved to appear on the ballot include a vote to repeal the residency requirement for sworn members of the Berkeley Fire Department and a vote to raise taxes to fund wildfire prevention. The council also added a ballot measure that, if approved by voters, will tax transportation network companies, or TNCs, such as Uber and Lyft.

If this measure passes, prearranged trips originating in Berkeley will be taxed at a rate of 50 cents per private trip and 25 cents per pooled trip. Ride-share vehicles that are wheelchair accessible would be exempt from the proposed tax.

The approved ballot measure would tax service users, not the service providers.

Users will pay the balance of the tax to the TNC, which will pay the city. If the TNC fails to collect the balance of the tax, it will still be responsible for paying the city the expected balance of the tax.

TNCs “are coming into Berkeley and trying to put small businesses out of business,” said Councilmember Sophie Hahn at the meeting. “I want that tax money … these are big, multibillion-dollar corporate players who are trying to get us to slow-walk these taxes.”

The item passed unanimously, with Councilmember Cheryl Davila abstaining.

Several measures on the action calendar were deferred until a July 30 special meeting for consideration. Potential measures to be considered include a redesignation of mayor and City Council member positions as full-time employment as well as two items creating public funds to address climate change.

The council had mixed feelings about the redesignation measure, which it spent more than 90 minutes discussing.

“There’s no question that the amount of time spent in meetings and the additional time outside of the meetings objectively merits full-time status,” Hahn said at the meeting. “It’s pretty clear to me that our constituents believe we are actually full time.”

Davila added that the measure was about diversity and equity in who can serve on the council — by increasing pay, more people would be able to run for a position.

Councilmember Rigel Robinson said at the meeting that he spends two-thirds of his City Council income on rent and also works as a barista at the Peet’s Coffee on Fourth Street. Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín said at the meeting that he lives with roommates in a rent-controlled apartment.

“This is the worst time to bring this forward when our residents have seen a reduction in income,” Arreguín said at the meeting, adding that the measure had bad optics amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The first special meeting concluded after about six hours of discussion, and the City Council moved to the special meeting about the city’s climate resilience plan.

At the second meeting, the council members passed a consent calendar implementing the Electric Mobility Roadmap and expanding community engagement around city climate solutions.

The goal of the Electric Mobility Roadmap is to plan and create a fossil fuel-free transportation system promoting walking, biking and public transportation use, while ensuring equitable and affordable access to clean transportation.

“This is really critical to not just our climate action plan, but also to make sure that all segments of our community can bike and walk and commute throughout our city safely,” Arreguín said at the meeting.

Contact Eric Rogers and Alexandra Feldman at [email protected].