Is The Honeymoon Over For Pittsburgh & Uber’s Driverless Car Program?

Image courtesy of Uber

Compared to Uber’s ugly, contentious one-week test of self-driving cars in San Francisco , the ridesharing company’s nine-month-old self-driving program in Pittsburgh has been rather peaceful. But after a number of broken promises, some city leaders are reportedly regretting this arrangement.

While Mayor Bill Peduto used to have a texting relationship with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, that’s not happening anymore, reports The New York Times.

Peduto claims Uber has fallen short on promises the company made, like bringing new jobs to the neighborhood near its test track, and pulling support of the city’s proposal for a $50 million federal grant to improve transportation. He’s also upset that Uber has started charging passengers for rides in the driverless cars.

“Travis Kalanick had told me the rides would be free and a service for the public,” Peduto said.

The city’s controller Michael Lamb also says Uber is holding back: He’s asked for traffic data gathered by the vehicles to no avail, calling the situation “an opportunity missed.”

And after Uber told the community living in the area near its test track in 2016 that it would hire locals, a pastor at a neighborhood church said he gave the company a list of job candidates. But since then, he says no one who’s applied for a job with the company has been hired.

Uber’s recent controversies have also sparked concerns in the city government as well as among residents including an investigation by the Justice Department into the company’s use of a software tool to elude law enforcement.

A nonprofit organization representing public transit drivers and riders organized a #DeleteUber campaign in January as well, to protest the company’s decision to continue airport service when taxi drivers went on strike to protest President Trump’s travel ban.

Part of the problem is that Mayor Peduto didn’t get anything in writing from Uber, the Times notes. However, the company says it’s open to making a deal with Pittsburgh, it just hasn’t seen a draft of proposed commitments the city wants from it.

In addition, Uber says it’s planning to share data its cars have gathered in the city this year, but Pittsburgh says the kind of information it shares with other cities isn’t enough.

The company claims it has created 675 jobs in the greater Pittsburgh area, and has pitched in at local organizations like a women’s shelter.

“Uber is proud to have put Pittsburgh on the self-driving map, an effort that included creating hundreds of tech jobs and investing hundreds of millions of dollars,” the company said in a statement. “We hope to continue to have a positive presence in Pittsburgh by supporting the local economy and community.”

And while Mayor Peduto is upset that Uber has started charging for its driverless rides, the company notes that it was always the plan to eventually end the free program.

This could be a lesson for other cities, including Tempe, AZ, which has already welcomed Uber’s testing efforts.

Uber “is a business, and they want to make money,” Linda Bailey, the executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials, told the Times. “With Pittsburgh, we learned we need to present the city’s needs upfront.”

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