Narrative: Uber Flouts Regulation
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Narrative: Uber Flouts Regulation (Jan 28, 2017)
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★ Uber Loses License to Operate in London Over Bad Behavior (Sep 22, 2017)
This isn’t a particularly new idea, and in fact it’s one that ride sharing companies have used for some time now in trying to convince regulators to allow them to operate. But it’s always good to see real data behind an idea, and in this case it seems to back it up pretty well, at least in New York City. The data isn’t consistent across the boroughs, but there’s certainly a clear trend suggesting the introduction of Uber in the City did indeed reduce drink driving, which is obviously a good thing. That’s a nice counterpoint to all the negative news stories recently about Uber in particular and ride sharing in general (including the one I just shared about driver vetting).
via The Economist
I think there may have been one day in the past week when there wasn’t some new negative story about Uber, and that’s just based on what I’ve written about here. The latest is reporting from the New York Times that Uber has a program called Greyball which identifies app users who may not be who they seem and serves up fake cars or otherwise obfuscates the real activity going on with drivers in the area. Although there are some legitimate reasons for Uber to do something like this – for a time, competitors were frequently ordering and canceling cars – it was deliberately used to evade law enforcement in places where Uber was breaking local laws. Its statement in the article suggests it sees nothing wrong with this behavior, but characterizes this last scenario as “opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers”. One might, I suppose, make a similar argument about police running speed traps, but radar detectors are illegal in some places anyway. The legality of what Uber did here isn’t 100% clear, but it’s yet another example of Uber’s disregard for regulations and willingness to do almost anything to flout or circumvent them. On the other hand, it appears Uber’s PR department has lost the will to fight on yet another front and isn’t even disputing this story.
via New York Times
Well, well: a rare case of Uber caving to regulators and doing as they ask. It had seemed as though Uber had given up on San Francisco and California in general when it moved its self-driving Volvos to Arizona late last year, but it now appears that it is actually going to go through the steps necessary to gain DMV approval for testing self-driving cars in California after all. This all feels like a totally unnecessary rigamarole for all concerned – Uber has likely gained nothing and lost quite a bit of trust as a result of all this, and now it’s back where it started.
During the very brief period when Uber’s self-driving cars were operating in San Francisco, one of them ran a red light. However, the company at the time engaged in some audacious spin and claimed the car was being driven by a human at the time and that the incident just highlighted the benefits of autonomy. Now, however, the Times is reporting that the car was supposed to be driving itself at that time and the human driver merely failed to intervene in a timely fashion. If validation were needed that the California DMV made the right decision when it stopped Uber from testing its cars without a license, here it is. But this is also yet another case of Uber acting like the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to it, and outright lying when it gets caught. And that in turn makes it very hard to believe it when it claims it’s in compliance with rules, and it only has itself to blame. What a terrible few weeks for Uber, pretty much all of its own making.
A good reminder that even when an announcement is made, it often takes weeks if not months for it to actually take effect – Uber announced its move from San Francisco to the Phoenix area in December, but only now is it launching self-driving rides for paying customers in Tempe, a Phoenix suburb. In addition, we still have the disingenuous claims from the governor of Arizona that California was somehow not “open to business” for self-driving cars, despite being the home of the biggest trials in the country. The reality is that Uber wouldn’t comply with applicable regulation and made the decision to leave the San Francisco area rather than comply as others have done. For now, that must feel like good news for Uber – it gets to test its cars without the scrutiny or reporting requirements which would have been imposed in San Francisco. But whether this ends up being a good thing for the drivers and pedestrians of Arizona remains to be seen.
Consumer Watchdog asks California to take Uber’s self-driving trucks off the road – Recode (Feb 9, 2017)
This is what you get when you build a reputation for flouting regulation: people don’t believe you when you claim you’re operating within the bounds of the law. Uber ignored the regulations around its self-driving cars in San Francisco until its DMV registrations were revoked, and now Consumer Watchdog says Uber subsidiary Otto can’t be trusted either when it comes to its self-driving trucks. As I’ve said repeatedly, Uber’s flouting of taxi regulations was a very different animal from its disregard for regulations concerning autonomous vehicles – in the former case, it had consumers on its side and could make a strong argument for increased safety, but that’s certainly not the case when it comes to autonomous vehicles. And yet both its past anti-regulation stances and the San Francisco case will come back to bite it, as they are here. This is when unchecked narratives – especially ones grounded in reality – really become dangerous.