Transparency will allow policymakers to make informed decisions on traffic safety, climate change, accessibility and congestion
SAN FRANCISCO (March 13, 2020) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today praised the recent decision by the California Public Utilities Commission to make public the annual reports from ride hailing companies like Uber and Lyft, which have been shrouded in secrecy for years. The reports contain information about driving practices, disability access and service that is vital for local agencies to ensure safety and enforce state and local laws.
The decision reverses a 2013 policy that kept ride-hailing companies’ annual reports filed with the CPUC confidential and inaccessible to public agencies. That had allowed Uber and Lyft to keep data about assaults, harassment, traffic collisions and driver hours from the public and local policymakers. Transportation network companies, the term the state uses for companies like Uber and Lyft, must now submit a public request to make portions of their annual reports confidential and will not receive blanket confidentially. The policy change will be effective starting with annual reports submitted for 2020, but leaves open the possibility for interested parties to receive prior reports from 2014 to 2019.
“The California Public Utilities Commission has taken an important step to make ride-hailing data available to the public,” Herrera said. “Uber and Lyft have tried to hide their information from local governments for more than six years, stonewalling as they saturated city streets with traffic. Public agencies need the most accurate information possible so they can make informed policy choices to ensure safety, equity and accessibility for all Californians. Cities will now be able to better respond to the growing impact these companies are having on our streets. With these reports, planners, traffic engineers and other experts will be able to get a much fuller picture of what effect these companies are having on our cities. That insight will allow us to better address climate change, traffic congestion and safety for everyone who uses our streets.”
Herrera’s office has long advocated to make transportation network company data public. As part of the CPUC’s recent decision-making process, the City Attorney’s Office partnered with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, San Francisco County Transportation Authority, and San Francisco International Airport in filing comments to the CPUC emphasizing the City’s interest in obtaining the annual report data. The comments highlighted the public interest in disclosing data from these companies, which local agencies can use to analyze the impact of ride-sharing services on transit, traffic congestion, safety and greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2017, Herrera subpoenaed Uber and Lyft to turn over records on driving practices, disability access and service in San Francisco. Herrera went on to secure an agreement with Lyft to provide operational data on a confidential basis, and then went on to win in court at both the trial level and at the court of appeal to force Uber to comply with the subpoena.
In 2013 the California Public Utilities Commission issued a decision giving itself regulatory jurisdiction over a newly created form of transportation providers, which they labelled transportation network companies, or TNCs. This policy required TNCs to file annual reports to the CPUC that included data on drivers, traffic incidents and accidents, trips and accessibility. Shortly before the policy was finalized, policymakers added a footnote that made these annual reports confidential.
Despite concern from San Francisco officials over potential public safety, accessibility, discrimination, compensation and other issues, this footnote has been used to handicap the City’s efforts to learn more about these companies’ effects.
The CPUC used this footnote in 2017 as a basis deny the City Attorney access to the annual reports when it sought access to those reports pursuant to a Public Records Act request. The Commission’s letter asserted that it was barred from producing the reports based on the footnote, and invited the City to participate in the rulemaking. However, the City Attorney successfully obtained this data from Uber and Lyft through subpoenas that were affirmed in court, but this data was not allowed to be made available to local transportation agencies that needed it.
Since the CPUC denied the City’s Public Records Act request, for nearly three years, the City has participated in the rulemaking process and demonstrated time and again that the annual reports should be public records and should not be withheld from disclosure unilaterally. Herrera’s office refuted arguments that the records are categorically trade secret, and demonstrated that there is a legitimate public use and need for the data.
“Uber and Lyft had no basis for keeping this information confidential,” Herrera said. “This decision affirms what we’ve been saying all along, and I’m glad that these ride-hailing companies will now be held to the same standard as other businesses regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. San Francisco will be safer, greener and more equitable because of this policy.”
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