Uber’s Data-Sharing Welcomed, But City Regulators Still Want More

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Uber has been much more reluctant to share its data before, which has not pleased regulators in other areas, including New York and its home state of California. This week’s new data-sharing program with Boston appears to represent Uber complying with those demands a bit further—the company said it will offer the same kind of access to any other U.S. cities that are interested.

Boston City Councilman Tito Jackson, who was among the officials pushing for more data from Uber at that contentious December hearing, says the new data-disclosure policy unveiled this week is “an encouraging step.” But regulators want to see more, Jackson adds.

“The other piece of information that I would like is the aggregate number of drivers. It’s a different conversation if there’s 1,000 vs. 10,000 or 30,000 or 40,000,” Jackson says.

Uber also isn’t giving the city the same level of data that it can already collect on regular taxis, which are required to be equipped with GPS systems that city officials can access. Jackson noted that there are other issues to deal with as well, including pressure to strengthen Uber’s background checks for drivers and a fee system for Uber drivers that might put them on a more even footing with cab drivers, whose jobs come with a long list of built-in expenses.

“We need all of this information and insight to make the most intelligent decision about policy that will protect riders, protect people who get in an accident, and also policy that will protect and ensure proper working conditions for the drivers,” Jackson says.

The council wasn’t involved in the new data-sharing discussions with Uber—those happened at the mayor’s office only. But the information will likely help Jackson and his colleagues get an idea of the scope of Uber’s operations.

“Our primary focus on this is on transportation planning and urban planning,” Franklin-Hodge says. “But it will certainly also inform to some extent the other conversations that Uber is having with the city.”

Despite being in the hands of government officials, the Uber information also won’t end up being used by any members of the public—a key concern of the private company, which guards its data as a prized competitive secret.

“We don’t, at this point, intend to make the data available to the public,” Franklin-Hodge says.

That’s a change from the way the city treats the same kind of data derived from taxis, which has been shared with researchers and other tinkerers interested in analyzing urban transportation. Uber’s data, at least for now, is staying in City Hall.

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