Lorena Gonzalez (K.C. Alfred/Tribune News Service)

Assemblymember may ‘force’ state to reveal ‘dark data’ of hidden Uber, Lyft crashes

A California politician is taking aim at Uber and Lyft’s hidden crash data, which state regulators have for years hidden from the public.

That data has long been out of reach of local San Francisco politicians as well as state regulators, as reported this week by the San Francisco Public Press, a local nonprofit investigative news outlet

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) sent a letter Thursday requesting the California Public Utilities Commission make annual crash data reports submitted by Uber and Lyft public record.

The CPUC requires Uber and Lyft to file annual reports containing detailed safety and traffic data, yet after what the Public Press called “intense industry lobbying,” the commission’s rules were written to include a confidentiality clause shielding those reports.

Gonzalez followed up her letter on Twitter, where she wrote that she’s “asking them to release the Uber/Lyft safety data that they are keeping secret despite it being a non-binding policy,” meaning, the regulators are not legally bound to do so.

“If they refuse, I’m prepared to utilize every tool to force them to do so,” Gonzalez said.

The California Public Utilities Commission didn’t return requests for comment before press time.

An Uber spokesperson said, in response to inquiries on its safety data, “There is nothing more important than the safety of the people we serve and we’re constantly working to improve.”

The company did not directly address questions asking why it is necessary to shield its data from the public.

Gonzalez’s letter urges CPUC to share its data, asserting “state law does not require the commission to maintain the confidentiality of TNC data,” referring to transportation network companies, the state term for ride-hails like Uber and Lyft.

And often, increased sunlight on collisions has shown a need for legal change to save lives, she argued.

That has been true in San Francisco, where, infamously, 6-year-old Sofia Liu was struck and killed by an Uber driver on New Year’s Eve in 2013. Her high-profile death by a driver who was allegedly distracted by the Uber app open on his phone prompted regulatory changes to protect Californians.

But for every Sofia Liu, multitudes of other deaths and injuries caused by Uber and Lyft vehicles fly under the radar, the Public Press revealed.

More than 150 lawsuits have been filed against Uber in San Francisco Superior Court since 2013 that claim drivers wrongfully injured other parties in vehicular collisions, according to the publication’s report, and of 47 traffic fatalities in San Francisco from 2018 through August 2019 seven involved ride-hailing vehicles, according to data the publication obtained from the San Francisco Police Department.

And for three years in a row, SFPD “spot enforcement” operations found that more than half of traffic citations issued in busy areas around downtown went to ride-hailing drivers, according to the Public Press.

The Examiner covered those “sting” operations at the time. San Francisco police found in 2017 that out of 2,656 traffic violations between April and June in 2017, more than 1,700 came from drivers of Uber and Lyft vehicles.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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