On the heels of his May lawsuit seeking driver information and business records, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has once again summoned the local ride-hailing bigwigs — Uber and Lyft — to court, this time with a subpoena demanding access to four years worth of data.
“The administrative subpoenas seek four years of records in eight categories, including miles and hours logged by drivers, incentives that encourage drivers to ‘commute’ from as far away as Fresno or Los Angeles, driver guidance and training, accessible vehicle information, and the services provided to residents of every San Francisco neighborhood,” the City Attorney’s Office said in a statement released Monday.
According to SF Gate, the two companies already supply those records to their state regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission. “But Uber and Lyft maintain that they need to shield the data from each other for competitive purposes — and have persuaded the commission to keep it under lock and key,” the paper reports. Uber and Lyft now have 15 days to comply or face penalties.
“We’re more than happy to work with the city to address congestion, but it should be a comprehensive solution including construction, the city’s population increase and the rise of online delivery services,” a spokesperson for Uber wrote in an email to Forbes. “Also, given the fact that the city posts home addresses of drivers on its public website, we have serious concerns about providing personal data that the city refuses to protect.”
A spokesperson for Lyft told the website, also via email, that the company is “currently reviewing the subpoena, [but] has always been focused on improving transportation access for people across all cities in which we operate. … We also have a track record of working collaboratively with policymakers who regulate us, including the CPUC here in California, to ensure that our service complements existing transportation options.”
The spokesperson added that around 30 percent of Lyft’s S.F. rides take place in underserved neighborhoods and that about 20 percent begin or end at public transportation hubs.
According to the City Attorney’s Office, the end goals of the subpoena are safety-, accessibility- and climate- related.
“We are hearing a growing number of complaints from residents, businesses and our own traffic enforcement staff and Muni operators about the behavior of these drivers and the congestion and pollution caused by the sheer volume of these vehicles on our city’s streets,” SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said in the city attorney’s release. “As stewards of the city’s transportation system, we need to understand the effects of these private companies and their impact on San Francisco’s transit, safety, accessibility, and climate goals.”
Some academics, however, are less favorable toward the subpoena, viewing it as “overly broad,” according to SF Gate.
“It’s perfectly reasonable for a city to periodically request information,” Arun Sundararajan, an NYU business professor and expert on the sharing economy, told the paper. “But one would expect that to be more surgical, not a blanket request for a wide range of data.”
Last month, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee proposed a more collaborative solution to some of the city’s ride-hailing woes.
“In exchange for Uber and Lyft providing the city with data describing where their cars drive, the mayor said, he will propose a pilot program that may develop ways to make pick-ups and drop-offs smoother,” Oscar Perry Abello reported for Next City at the time. “Lee said the city was open to designating specific pick-up/drop-off points in key high-traffic areas, or somehow reducing ride-hail pickups or traffic along certain corridors, but the mayor wants to use data to drive those decisions.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.