Uber misses data deadline

Some so-called rideshare companies are facing steep penalties by not “sharing” data about their business practices with government entities.

Finding a way to share some data, though, is key to potential partnerships between these private companies and public transit agencies, transit analysts and company officials said.

Uber missed a major deadline from state regulators to hand over data about their business practices, which was initially filed heavily redacted for the public.

Though regulators could peek under Uber’s hood, the documents provided to the public featured heavy black bars making most of the text unreadable.

On Sept. 17, Administrative Law Judge Robert Mason ordered Uber to refile this data with the California Public Utilities Commission in five days, this time making the answers viewable for the public.

Four days after its deadline Uber had still not filed the data, the CPUC verified with the Examiner.

“The deadline to comply or challenge the ruling has passed,” said Christopher Chow, a CPUC spokesman.  “Noncompliance with the directive could lead to sanctions.”

Uber did not respond to requests for comment on this story. The company was previously fined $7.3 million by the CPUC for failing to share data.

As the CPUC crafts new regulations for techride companies like Uber and Lyft, both companies are being told to open up the books about business practices. And as transportation companies across the U.S. begin to partner with these companies, government openrecords laws may give rise to hesitation to share what the companies regard as proprietary information.

Both Uber and Lyft have voiced in legal filings that they oppose requirements to share some data about their business practices.

To do so, these companies navigate tricky legal ground — each worrying how much information to share with the government, without giving one another a competitive edge.

Susan Shaheen, a UC Berkeley researcher who has studied Uber and Lyft, said sharing data with government would reveal “a lot about pricing, where they have the most business, that would be damaging from a proprietary standpoint,” she told the Examiner.

The goal then, she said, is to reach a level of data sharing that “would enable the government to understand more about how those services are being used, and how the transportation system would be impacted.”

Emily Castor, director of transportation policy at Lyft, told the Examiner that Lyft is exploring partnerships with transit agencies across the U.S. Much of this is possible because they share some data, she said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of interest in the way public agencies can learn from platforms like ours,” she said. Much of this data is generalized to protect privacy.

Locally, Lyft gave generalized heat maps of its rider data to the the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, she said, to help plan “first mile” solutions to connect people in far-flung neighborhoods to public transit.

This is the kind of potential partnership that Lyft could provide to transit agencies like BART, Castor said.

“No one is going to pay for a trip from Walnut Creek to San Francisco every day” via Lyft, she said, “but they may pay a few dollars to make that final or first leg of the trip to [BART].”

In this way, sharing data enables Lyft to work in concert with public transit, Castor said.

“Something that may surprise people is, we don’t think Lyft should be the sole mode for every trip. We think we should be part of the ecosystem of options,” she said.

When the CPUC asks for such data, it’s often provided under seal, she said, but local transportation agencies don’t necessarily want to know the “secret sauce” of their proprietary algorithms.

“They want to know ‘where are these rides happening?’” she said.

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