Uber has a plan to get rid of traffic jams, expand transportation, and create safer trips.
In a blog post Tuesday morning, the car service app company announced a partnership with the city of Boston to share trip data, and the people to interpret this data, to reach those goals.
“Uber is committed to sharing data, compiled in a manner that protects the privacy of riders and drivers, that can help cities target solutions for their unique challenges,” according to the blog.
New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has been asking for the same from Uber for months, but Uber has not relented. In fact, at a City Council hearing an Uber representative said litigation was underway because the TLC’s demands are overreaching.
Uber has already received fines and temporary suspensions for not submitting the same datasets yellow and green cabs do for a one-time request. When a new TLC rule goes into effect in about a month, the data submissions will become routine.
According to the blog post, Uber is anonymizing the trip data by using zip codes instead of exact locations. They are also providing the timestamps of pick-ups and drop-offs, and the distance and duration of the trips.
Uber also lists Vision Zero, a traffic safety initiative, as something that would benefit from this “smart data.” While Vision Zero is one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s core initiatives, Boston does not currently have a Vision Zero plan in place.
TLC’s request for data under the new rules are similar but not exact. Because TLC regulates the entire black car service industry, it is asking for the for-hire driver, vehicle, dispatch base, and affiliate base license numbers in addition to the pick-up timestamp and location.
TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi said at a hearing the data was necessary to inform policy.
According to Uber’s blog post it is about privacy. “This data can be utilized to help cities achieve their transportation and planning goals without compromising personal privacy,” Uber states.
In response to New York City’s requests for data, Uber representatives have said it is a matter of protecting trade secrets. The reasoning did not hold up in an administrative tribunal hearing, which noted in a hearing summary that Uber has submitted data in the past and the license numbers are readily available to the public (on the TLC’s website).
Uber’s rival Lyft had the same knee-jerk reaction initially, according to Lyft representative Diana Dellamere at a City Council hearing. Because of the competitive setting, Lyft was initially concerned the data could leak trade secrets, but ultimately decided it was a reasonable public safety policy.