Facing trip cap slip-ups, Facebook restricted Uber and Lyft access to its campuses | May 8, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - May 8, 2019

Facing trip cap slip-ups, Facebook restricted Uber and Lyft access to its campuses

by Kate Bradshaw

When Facebook began to rack up significant fines with the city of Menlo Park for violating its trip cap, the company stopped letting ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft access certain areas of its campuses.

Since Facebook came to Menlo Park, the company and the city have negotiated a series of development agreements laying out what the company must do for the city to support its continued expansion.

One of the key terms of those agreements is a strict trip cap: an established limit on the number of vehicles that can come in and out of Facebook's east and west campuses each day. The city's cap allows a total of 15,673 trips per day, with stricter limits on the maximum number of trips permitted during peak hours. According to Facebook's agreement with the city, the city already permits Facebook to exceed the trip cap 12 times per year for special events, and allows three days every six months when the cap can be exceeded without penalty.

But between June 2017 and Dec. 31, 2018, Facebook exceeded the number of permitted trips 12 more times, triggering penalties of $51,205, according to a staff report.

On just one day last year, July 27, Facebook racked up $20,070 in penalties for exceeding the trip cap by 341 trips, the report states.

The city charges a penalty of $50 per trip per day over the limit. Penalties rise based on the frequency of the trip-cap violations: to $100 per trip per day if there have been penalties applied in the two previous months or in any four of the previous six months, and to $200 per trip per day if penalties were applied in each of the six previous months.

Fees collected from these penalties go toward reducing vehicle trips and traffic congestion in Menlo Park, and 25% of fees go to East Palo Alto to help reduce traffic in that city near Facebook's East Campus.

Each year, Facebook has to check in with Menlo Park to prove that it's meeting all of the terms in its development agreements.

This year, the city learned that even though Facebook had banned ride-hailing services from accessing the East Campus in August, some users of those services were still headed to that campus and should have been included in the vehicle count under the trip cap.

After staff calculated the additional trips generated by ride-hailing services — and noted that the restriction had led to a reduction in the overall number of East Campus vehicle trips — the Menlo Park Planning Commission voted 5-0 on April 29, with commissioners Susan Goodhue recused and Katherine Strehl absent, to find that Facebook is in good-faith compliance with the development agreements for its East Campus.

The commission had previously found Facebook to be in compliance with the agreements for its other two Menlo Park campuses, considered the "West Campus" and the "West Campus Expansion" areas. The matter will go to the City Council for final approval.

Restricting Uber and Lyft

As Facebook's employee population balloons, the company has to work harder to ensure compliance with the trip cap.

In restricting where Uber and Lyft drivers can pick up and drop off riders, Facebook reported to the city that the overall use of these services has declined.

In a letter, Facebook employees reported the change was made because allowing ride-hailing vehicles anywhere on campus created unsafe conditions, congestion and unnecessary traffic.

"As a result of the demand for ride hailing, large numbers of vehicles would stage throughout our sites, in particular the East Campus, to wait for nearby ride requests," the letter stated.

In response, Facebook worked with ride-hailing companies to set up a series of what are called "geo fences," or specific pickup and drop-off locations like those that exist at airports. Facebook created eight "ride lounges" around its west campuses, but prohibited ride-hailing at Facebook's East Campus and at its Building 20 at 1 Facebook Way.

The geo fences went into effect on Aug. 1, after months of working with the ride-hailing companies, according to Anthony Harrison, Facebook director of corporate communications. However, the company still violated the trip cap a number of times that month, and three smaller trip cap violations occurred in October that year before appearing to taper off, according to staff.

Before the geo fences were implemented, Facebook reported that there had been an average of 730 vehicles from ride-hailing services on the East Campus per day. Following counts conducted in February and March 2019, Facebook reported a daily average of 75 ride-hailing vehicles whose riders were destined for the East Campus.

Commissioner John Onken commented that Facebook has "worked incredibly hard" to manage its traffic, and that the penalties are, in essence, "a very big parking ticket."

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