The New York Taxi & Limousine Tribunal in early January suspended most of Uber’s bases in the city, as punishment for the ridesharing company’s refusal to comply with city regulators’ demands for private customer data. Uber lawyers appealed the decision, and the commission suspended the ban until the case is heard.
At issue is the Taxi & Limousine Commission’s demand for “electronic trip record information for all trips dispatched through [Uber’s] bases, which occurred between April 1, 2014 and September 20, 2014.”
Uber representatives say complying with the demands would reveal company trade secrets, including information that could harm its competitive position and violate drivers’ reasonable expectations of privacy.
Old Regulatory Model
The partial ban, affecting five of the company’s six bases, is an example of regulators applying old models of consumer interactions with service providers to new business models, like Uber’s, says Reason Foundation Vice President of Policy Adrian Moore.
“If we want the market to evolve, provide new services and more competition, the city has to let go of the old, outdated non-technological view of the market, and its regulations, and embrace an open and competitive market,” Moore said. “Like a lot of local governments, rather than admitting that the use of smart apps to solve information problems makes markets work better and overcomes the need for many existing regulations, the city wants to retain control of the market and limit entry to ensure more money for the cronies who have permission to operate.”
“Uber made the right decision” he added. “We have been plagued with credit, phone, and internet companies giving up data to the government in response, not to specific subpoenas, but to broad, sweeping data-gathering that clearly violates our privacy rights, which is exactly what the city is trying to do in this case.”
The city’s demands, he said, seem arbitrary.
“There is no problem here solved by the city having vehicle location data,” he said. “The gathering of location data on Uber cars does not serve any compelling public interest. It is a control measure, pure and simple.
“The app and Uber’s own systems provide customers with the information they need for the market to work,” Moore added.
‘A Stealth Ban’
Jeffrey Tucker, a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, called the forced suspension of operations “a stealth ban on alternatives to the city’s taxi monopoly.”
“The success of peer-to-peer transportation alternatives is due to their popularity with the public. The tribunal is waging war on consumers—a futile war,” he said.
Tucker says he thinks Uber will prevail over regulators’ attempts to curtail its popularity with consumers.
“To me, this just looks like harassment, a fishing expedition of sorts, at the behest of the taxi monopoly. It will not work, because Uber will not, and should not, give up its proprietary data on rides arranged through customers and partner drivers,” he said.
Kelsey Hackem ([email protected]) writes from Columbus, Ohio.
“The Peer-to-Peer Economy: Death Blow to the State,” Jeffery Tucker, Liberty.me, http://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/peer-peer-economy-death-blow-state/