End of the Honeymoon? Pittsburgh Sours on Relationship with Uber

Due to the events over the weekend, a rift has formed between Pittsburgh and Uber.

by / January 31, 2017

*Editor's note: According to multiple reports on Feb. 2, 2017, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced via email to his staff that he was leaving Trump's business advisory council.    

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto joined protesters at the Pittsburgh International Airport on Sunday Jan. 29 to protest the executive order (EO) on immigration (also known as the "Muslim Ban") signed by President Donald Trump. In a display of solidarity with travelers who were detained in the airports, Peduto joined crowds speaking about the city’s commitment to inclusivity and rejecting bigotry.

Peduto not only went after Trump, but also voiced his concerns over ride-hailing company, Uber. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, Peduto voiced his frustration over CEO Travis Kalanick’s role on Trump’s business advisory council (he has since announced he will leave the council) and the company’s decision to continue operating during a New York City Taxi Workers Alliance strike at JFK airport. The company faced backlash over the weekend for appearing to profit off the strike. Subsequently, #DeleteUber began trending on Twitter.

Before these weekend events, Pittsburgh and Uber enjoyed a healthy relationship. The city was the first to see a rollout of driverless Ubers and houses the company’s Advanced Technologies Center.

In the article, Peduto argues that Uber needs to begin giving back to the Pittsburgh community, which it is using as a proving ground for its technology. “This is a two-way street, not a one-way," Peduto said. "I need to see more interest from them in our communities, both locally and internationally.”

City Controller Michael Lamb piggybacked on Peduto’s efforts, calling for more transparency from Uber. In an open letter to the mayor, Lamb urged Peduto to “make clear what terms, if any, have been negotiated with Uber concerning data collection while the company’s autonomous vehicles are being tested and used on Pittsburgh streets.”

Because Pittsburgh has opened up its streets for testing, Uber has been able to make strides into artificial intelligence and big data. Both city officials are hoping to see a bit more return on the relationship to the city and its residents. Lamb laid out four questions he believes need to be answered:

  1. Who owns the data collected by Uber vehicles?
  2. Can Uber turn around and sell that data without our consent?
  3. And do we get a share of any royalties?
  4. Do we even have free access to the data that our city streets generate?

It seems as though the special relationship between Steel City and Uber may be souring. Lamb gave a forewarning for Peduto’s upcoming meeting with Kalanick: “Don’t let Uber ignore our citizens in the crosswalk.”

Uber publicly released messages claiming it was not in any way trying to break the taxi strike or profit from the situation. In a statement, it also claimed that having a seat at the table,"should not be taken as an endorsement of the new administration’s policy positions.” Kalanick also announced that the company is setting up a $3 million legal defense fund for affected drivers.