Uber picked up a hefty fare Wednesday when a judge fined the tech-ride company $7.3 million for refusing to give California regulators information about its business practices, including collision details and how accessible vehicles are to disabled riders.
The fine was part of a ruling by Robert Mason, an administrative law judge at the California Public Utilities Commission, the regulatory agency that allowed Uber and its competitors such as Lyft to operate in the state as long as the companies reported aspects of their activities.
While Uber argued it could not provide data, Mason noted Uber has provided the same data in other US states, like Massachusetts.
Uber, “has demonstrated an ability to comply,” he wrote, but instead filed complaints late “in an obvious attempt to delay the (proceeding).”
Mason agreed with utility commission staff who said Uber has not filed all required reports, specifically about how often it provided disabled-accessible vehicles when requested, places where drivers tend to turn down ride requests, and the causes of collisions.
Uber argues it provided sufficient information to the commission. The judge acknowledged that Uber provided some information but said it was not enough.
In a written statement, Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend called the ruling and fine “deeply disappointing” and said the company would appeal.
“Uber has already provided substantial amounts of data to the California Public Utilities Commission, information we have provided elsewhere with no complaints,” Behrend wrote, adding that submitting more detailed information could affect the privacy of passengers and drivers.
In other filings to the CPUC, however, Uber attorneys argued that “trade secrets” would become vulnerable if the company had to share too much data.
Late last year the San Francisco Examiner asked Marzia Zafar, director of CPUC’s policy and planning division, why the state was seeking this data.
The CPUC is seeking Uber drivers location data to see if they consistently underserve low-income communities and communities of color, she said, which is a practice known as redlining.
“This is all about public safety,” Zafar said last December. “Our rules are to make sure this new industry is not discriminating against communities and public safety is not hindered.”
But, she noted at the time, “They’re not providing us with the data we’ve asked for.”
The CPUC is also seeking data on wheelchair access because as so-called rideshares have expanded, many taxi drivers have fled a cash-strapped taxi industry. This has led to less wheelchair-equipped taxi cabs for the disability community.
In January 2013, there were about 1,400 wheelchair taxi trips in San Francisco, according to the SFMTA. By October of last year, the monthly use had declined to 457 rides.
In previous interviews, SFMTA staff confirmed the drop off is not due to lack of demand from wheelchair riders, but lack of supply of wheelchair-taxi drivers, caused by the tumult in the taxi-industry.
Some the Examiner spoke with noted that the $7 million fine to Uber is a drop in the bucket to a company valued at $40 billion.
Uber has previously tussled with public officials. In Portland, Oregon, for example it had an extended disagreement with the city that led it to suspend operations. In France, Uber suspended its low-cost service following an escalating legal dispute and sometimes-violent tensions with traditional French taxi drivers. French authorities had ordered the service — called UberPop — shut down, but Uber refused, pending a legal decision at a top French court.
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