Earlier this month, I addressed why I believed “Uber would rather be suspended in New York than hand over data to the TLC.”
After a couple weeks of refusing to provide trip data to New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, and despite being partially suspended in the city, Uber has reversed course. The company turned over thousands of records today.
When the suspension was first levied, I wrongly wrote that Uber would have little reason to turn over the data, even in the face of having five of its six dispatch bases suspended. My logic at the time was that, as an amorphous software platform Uber doesn’t need multiple bases of operation, unlike a phone-operated car service that routes a request through one of many dispatches located in the city depending on the caller’s location. To serve customers efficiently, Uber theoretically only needs one dispatch base.
Furthermore, the company has plenty of reasons to keep this data to itself. While Uber claims it protects this data to guard user privacy, the company has also shown in the past that it considers much of its transportation data to be proprietary — and not something it wants to offer up to the TLC which, conceivably, could use it to operate its own taxis and livery cars more efficiently.
What I didn’t realize, however, was that Uber drivers still used multiple dispatches throughout the city for training sessions and licensure — and these appointments had to be canceled when the partial suspension was passed down.
“We feel it is in the best interests of thousands of New York driving partners who depend on Uber to support their families to provide data the TLC has requested, but under protest,” Uber spokesperson Matt Wing told New York Business Journal.
The city, for its part, has its own legitimate reasons for demanding this data. As the Washington Post’s Emily Badger wrote when DC legalized UberX without demanding this data:
Anonymized versions of this data — designed to protect the privacy of individual drivers and riders — would help cities verify that Uber drivers aren’t discriminating against certain neighborhoods or disabled passengers, that Uber is actually weeding out drivers who do, that the company is truly serving the public in exchange for the public’s confidence in it.
This data also can help city planners better understand how people move about the city. Meanwhile, the payment information associated with trips can help the city truly evaluate how much Uber benefits drivers — and to subsequently assess the economic trade-off of allowing Uber to strengthen its increasingly monopolistic hold on the app-based transportation market in New York.
Even if Uber’s impetus for giving over the data is to help its drivers, this is yet another example of how the company, after years of anti-government rhetoric, is finally making more compromises with the city. Of course, it waited first until it had a huge foothold in the market, and the bargaining leverage that comes with winning over the city’s consumers.
[illustration by Hallie Bateman]