Whoa, Pittsburgh’s Mayor Is Really Ticked Off at Uber

Uber Pittsburgh

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Pittsburgh has branched beyond its Rust Belt roots in recent years and worked to recast itself as a hotbed for testing and development of advanced transportation technology. So far, the standard for those efforts had been the city’s work with Uber, which first based its Advanced Technologies Center in the city and then launched, with much fanfare, a pilot project involving the testing of self-driving vehicles on city streets. But the relationship between the municipality and Uber has become strained.

Frustrations with the company’s conduct both within the city and elsewhere have boiled over, and Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto and another top city official have been ramping up their criticism of the company in private meetings and public statements.

“We’ve held up our end [of] the bargain, but we haven’t seen much from Uber,” Peduto, a Democrat, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week. “This is a two-way street, not a one way. I need to see more interest from them in our communities, both locally and internationally.”

“They currently operate as if they have been given
-carte blanche access to our city.”
—Michael Lamb, Pittsburgh city controller

Beyond the city’s borders, he directed his anger at the company’s perceived efforts to profit from a taxi-driver protest of President Trump’s temporary ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, as well as Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who initially had accepted a position on a business advisory council created by the president, only to abandon it following an avalanche of criticism.

Within the city, email correspondence obtained in a public-records request made by statewide news outlet PennLive showed the relationship deteriorating last year during the final stages of the Smart City Challenge, a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation in which one city would win $ 40 million in public funding for ambitious transportation projects.

Pittsburgh was one of seven finalists. As did its competitors, city officials sought to create public-private partnerships they could highlight in their applications. Pittsburgh officials asked Uber to kick in a $ 25 million commitment for a transit connection between Carnegie Mellon University and a proposed test track for Uber’s self-driving cars. On the day before the application was due in May 2016, Uber instead offered nothing but a laundry list of its own demands that asked for special privileges for its own vehicles on public roads.

Uber Pittsburgh

“You aren’t offering anything back to the public,” Peduto wrote back. “I guess we won’t be able to offer a proposal. I hope Austin [Texas] and Google won’t beat us because of this.”

A month later, federal officials named Columbus, Ohio, which had secured $ 90 million in local matching contributions, the winner. One part of the Columbus application detailed its intentions to use self-driving vehicles to improve transportation services in a neighborhood that has a high proportion of “carless households” and unreliable access to public transportation and employment opportunities.

Peduto might have been exasperated because, only a month before being frustrated during the Smart City application process, he had gone out of his way to pen a letter of support for Uber, which had been fined $ 11.4 million for illegal operations in the state by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

But their partnership remained intact at least through the fall. Emails obtained by Motherboard portray a close working relationship between Peduto and Kalanick. On September 1, 2016, the utility commission upheld the fine, and Peduto quickly emailed Kalanick, writing, “Bad news out of Harrisburg.”

It’s unclear what happened between September and the shift in Peduto’s public tenor last week, but after the mayor implored Uber to establish a two-way relationship, Michael Lamb, the city’s controller, wrote a letter that supported the mayor’s skeptical view of the city’s relationship with the ride-hailing service.

Uber Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

“They currently operate as if they have been given carte blanche access to our city,” Lamb wrote, per a transcript of the letter published at WPXI.com. “At Uber’s request, the city of Pittsburgh has opened its streets to a fleet of data-collecting robotic vehicles. This is much more than ride sharing. These vehicles are capable of collecting endless amounts of data about our city. Who owns that data?”

That’s a question that cities across America are asking. Municipalities and transit agencies from New York City to Pinellas County, Florida, have been asking for greater access to Uber data. So far the data has straddled a blurry line between what is public information and what is proprietary company information. Last month, the company said it had created a dashboard to make anonymized traffic data available to transit officials and city planners.

“These are important points that need to be discussed, and I hope they have been,” Lamb wrote. “But they also should be publicly aired so that our citizens fully understand the relationship that has been established and the terms that have been negotiated. Don’t let Uber ignore our citizens in the crosswalk.”

In a statement regarding the dustup, a spokesperson for the ride-hailing service wrote: “Uber is incredibly proud of our work in Pittsburgh. Since we set up shop in 2015, we’ve brought hundreds of high-tech jobs to the city and invested millions of dollars in the local economy.”

Uber is just one of the linchpins in the city’s overall push to attract and develop advanced-transportation business. Carnegie Mellon (CMU) has served as a hub for much of this activity, and it has spun out startups including Ottomatika, a company that builds perception and planning software for autonomous vehicles and was acquired by Delphi Automotive in mid-2015. The city recently expanded on collaboration with CMU that has included the testing of traffic lights at dozens of intersections that use artificial intelligence to help gauge backups and improve traffic flow.

Pete Bigelow is the transportation, technology, and mobility editor at Car and Driver. He can be reached via email at pbigelow@hearst.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.


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Post Author: martin

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Martin is an enthusiastic programmer, a webdeveloper and a young entrepreneur. He is intereted into computers for a long time. In the age of 10 he has programmed his first website and since then he has been working on web technologies until now. He is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of BriefNews.eu and PCHealthBoost.info Online Magazines. His colleagues appreciate him as a passionate workhorse, a fan of new technologies, an eternal optimist and a dreamer, but especially the soul of the team for whom he can do anything in the world.

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