Uber, Lyft driving Parking Authority crazy by withholding data | Editorial

BIZ UBER LA
The Philadelphia Parking Authority wants more information about how ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft impact transportation in the city.

In a fight between the Philadelphia Parking Authority and Uber, it can be difficult to pick a side worthy of support instead of scorn.

The PPA complains that ride-hailing companies it regulates, like Uber and Lyft, do not provide enough information about the business they do in the city. This from an agency assailed for years due to inefficiency, scandal, and a lack of transparency.

Uber claims it can’t reveal much of the information the PPA wants without endangering customer privacy. This from a company sued this month by Attorney General Josh Shapiro for allegedly dragging its feet in disclosing a data breach that gave hackers access to the names and driver’s license numbers of about 13,500 Uber drivers in this state.

This rocky relationship is governed by a state law passed in 2016 that expires on Dec. 31, 2019.

The PPA estimates that Uber and Lyft provide about 90,000 trips in Philadelphia each day. That means those services will provide nearly 60 million rides between now and when the law expires.

The PPA wants detailed ride-hailing revenue information, data on where and when the services pick up and drop off passengers, a complete record of all customer complaints, and the number of vehicles being operated by company drivers in the city.

Uber has become a major player in transportation as part of the “gig economy,” casting its drivers as entrepreneurs.  But the volume of business in Philadelphia means it must be accountable not just to customers but to the municipal transportation systems it affects. That requires planning. And planning is built on data.

It’s hard to see how the PPA can regulate a business without some basic data. And it’s hard for a city to manage traffic, congestion, infrastructure needs, public safety and planning without having a clear picture of the number of cars and trips services like Uber account for.

The 2016 law was intended to put to rest a dispute between the PPA and ride-hailing services, which are now allowed to operate in the city in exchange for a 1.4 percent tax on their gross receipts. Two-thirds of that money is directed to the Philadelphia School District while the PPA gets the rest.

Gov. Wolf, when signing the legislation in November 2016, said it would prompt ride-hailing services to provide answers to questions about operations in Philadelphia. But too many questions remain unanswered.

The PPA is not alone in the dark here. SEPTA, which partnered with Uber in 2015 on discounted rides to Regional Rail stations, dropped the practice because the company would not disclose information about how many people used the service.

And the city has been rebuffed by Uber when seeking information for transportation planning.

The PPA, SEPTA, and the city are not asking Uber for personal details about riders, but it should provide data to ensure the company is playing by the fiscal rules set up in the 2016 law.

That legislation clearly didn’t do enough to require a regulated industry to provide information to regulators. A year and nine months — when that legislation expires — is too long to wait for those answers.

The General Assembly should get to work now on amended legislation that requires ride-hailing services to provide necessary information to the PPA, SEPTA, and the city.