Following months of conflict over a controversial data-sharing policy, Los Angeles has temporarily suspended Uber’s permit to rent electric scooters and bicycles on city streets and sidewalks.
The company’s subsidiary, Jump, must appeal the decision by Friday or leave the city, the Transportation Department told the company in a letter last week. For now, customers can still rent the vivid red scooters and electric bikes through the Jump app.
In response, Uber threatened in a letter to sue the city over the “patently unfair and improper” suspension. The letter also questioned the validity of the “eleventh-hour administrative review process” that the city created last month.
“Every other company that is permitted in Los Angeles is following the rules,” said Transportation Department spokeswoman Connie Llanos. “We look forward to being able to work with Uber on getting them into compliance.”
The suspension follows months of tension and failed attempts at compromise between Uber and the city over a data-sharing rule in L.A.'s one-year pilot permit program. Companies are required to transmit real-time data on all trips made within the city, including the start point, end point and travel time.
Uber has resisted the rule for months, arguing, with the backing of several data privacy organizations, that the city’s policy constitutes government surveillance. With minimal analysis, they say, the information could easily reveal where people live, work, socialize or worship.
Los Angeles officials have said the data are necessary to figure out which companies are flouting the permit program’s rules, including caps on the number of vehicles and bans on riding in certain areas. They have also argued that the companies cannot be trusted to regulate themselves.
The eight companies with permits to operate in L.A. — including Uber, Bird, Lime and Lyft — manage a fleet of about 32,000 scooters and bikes that see about 1 million trips per month.
The dispute highlights the lack of trust between cities and transportation companies that have typically moved into new markets without asking permission, working with local officials or sharing details on their operations.
Companies such as Uber “generate and collect massive amounts of personal and financial data,” while the city “does not collect information specific to individual riders beyond trip information,” said Marcel Porras, the Transportation Department’s chief sustainability officer, in a letter to Uber last week.
The data-sharing policies crafted in Los Angeles are now being overseen by a nonprofit organization, the Open Mobility Foundation. Its advocates hope the rules will serve as a framework to standardize data-sharing between governments and transportation companies.
The Transportation Department has urged California regulators to adopt a similar framework for trips made in Uber and Lyft cars, which would reveal vast amounts of information on their operations statewide — data cities badly want to review, but that the companies have zealously guarded.