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SF exploring ‘legal action’ against state for hidden Lyft, Uber traffic data

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(Ekevara Kitpowsong/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco officials are so fed up over traffic potentially caused by Uber and Lyft, they’re considering suing the state to help alleviate the problem.

At a regular meeting of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority Board of Directors on Tuesday, Commissioner Ahsha Safai — also a San Francisco supervisor — announced he is exploring legal action against the state.

The problem, said Safai, is the California Public Utilities Commission has location data of the tens of thousands of Uber and Lyft vehicles on San Francisco streets that may help planners alleviate traffic congestion.

But the commission won’t hand it over to San Francisco, despite repeated requests.

“[I] asked the City Attorney to look through legal action with the state PUC and force them to share this information with us,” Safai said. “The idea that they have data they don’t want to share with a locality that could potentially help us to plan and make better decisions is absurd.”

Safai said he’s not the sharpest critic of Uber and Lyft, like others in San Francisco, but noted some city entities like the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency pointed to ride-hails as a source of traffic woes.

Previously, the CPUC told the San Francisco Examiner that Uber and Lyft “mark the data as confidential under Public Utilities Code section 583.”

That section states that no information furnished to the commission by a public utility “or any business which is a subsidiary or affiliate of a public utility, or a corporation which holds a controlling interest in a public utility, except those matters specifically required to be open to public inspection by this part” shall be open to public inspection.

It also mandates sharing that information is a misdemeanor.

Commissioner and Supervisor Aaron Peskin called the CPUC’s resistance to sharing Uber and Lyft traffic data “an outrageous situation … It is Kafka-esque and absurd.”

As the Examiner previously reported, there are as many as 45,000 Uber and Lyft drivers active in San Francisco. By comparison, there are 1,800 active taxi medallions in San Francisco.

The SFMTA filed legal missives with the CPUC arguing for tighter regulations of Uber and Lyft, at some times asking for local jurisdiction over the companies to help mitigate traffic.

The SFMTA was denied.

Commissioner and Supervisor Malia Cohen asked Safai at the meeting, “What was the response from the City Attorney’s Office? Was there a general level of interest?”

Safai replied, “The City Attorney said he’s going to have his team look at it and get back to us shortly.”

The City Attorney’s Office would not confirm any such request, and told the Examiner it would be shielded by attorney client privilege.

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