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San Francisco Officials Continue Attacks on Uber

City tax collector wants to post home addresses of drivers online.

UberRitchie B. Tongo/EPA/NewscomThe City of San Francisco filed suit last week against the ridesharing service Uber after the company filed a motion in court to block the release of a drivers' personal information. This sets up the latest battle between the city and one of the leading transportation network companies over an issue that has privacy implications beyond the ridesharing industry.

San Francisco's tax collector wants the home addresses and other information of drivers to post on a web site that includes a map that pinpoints the exact location of registered business owners in the city. Because these drivers are independent contractors, most of them use their home addresses as their official business address.

The web site is publicly searchable, which means that anyone can easily find where these drivers live. "We've asked the city to allow us to get the consent of drivers and to remove their personal information from the public web site, but they have refused," said Uber Northern California's general manager, in a statement last week.

The city's treasurer, Jose Cisneros, portrayed Uber's actions as an effort to "circumvent the tax laws that apply to all businesses in San Francisco." He notes that 130,000 other businesses—ranging from big ones such as Pacific Gas & Electric to small hairdressers—must also provide the information.

"San Francisco needs this information to determine whether Uber's drivers are complying with San Francisco's Business Registration Certificate requirement and paying annual registration fees," the city wrote in its legal brief filed in San Francisco Superior Court. In a statement, City Attorney Dennis Herrera referred to privacy concerns as a "red herring."

But critics of the city's legal approach see it as its latest effort to hobble these increasingly popular ridesharing platforms. For instance, Cisneros seemed to suggest in a statement that the dispute goes beyond a simple business-registration request, as he ticked off a variety of unrelated complaints that he has with the company.

"Once again Uber believes they are above the law," said Cisneros. "If Uber is so concerned about the financial well-being and privacy of their drivers, I recommend they raise wages, convert the contractors to employees, or push for their driver's inclusion in statewide licensing like limousine drivers."

If this is a question of registration, then why bring up pay rates or drivers' independent-contractor status or unrelated licensing issues?

The city attorney's office likewise brought up other issues. It alleges that Uber has engaged in a "pattern of obstruction" because it "has refused to share information with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency about its operations, tested self-driving cars on the streets of San Francisco without a state permit, and has fought calls by the SFMTA and the San Francisco International Airport for stricter criminal background checks on its drivers."

The city attorney's office also complained that, because ridesharing companies such as Uber are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, it has "limited the ability of cities to provide oversight." The statement criticizes Uber for its backing of Senate Bill 182, which "would prohibit local jurisdictions from requiring a transportation network company driver to obtain more than one business license, regardless of the number of jurisdictions in which they operate," according to the Senate bill analysis.

That measure has passed two committees with little opposition. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, drivers are concerned that myriad cities will require business licenses, which means they would have to register and pay fees in every city where they operate. There are dozens of cities in the Bay Area alone, and drivers frequently pick up passengers in, say, San Francisco and leave them off in Oakland or San Mateo. Only a handful of cities now require business licenses, but the requirement could easily spread across the region.

As the ridesharing companies' defenders point out, these statements suggest the city isn't just looking for a little registration information, but instead are pursuing broader regulatory efforts against the companies, which have shaken up the established taxicab industry.

City officials also have complained about the number of ridesharing drivers on the streets, yet if these services weren't available people would be using other types of vehicles. San Francisco officials often boast about the city's role in the New Economy, yet are taking an antagonistic approach to this emerging industry.

City officials rebut the privacy concerns by noting that drivers can provide post-office boxes or separate business addresses on the registration forms, but drivers complain that it adds costs and hassles – above and beyond the $91 annual fee the city collects from drivers. Uber officials say they've heard from thousands of drivers who have expressed concern about privacy issues.

But it's clear that the city and the transportation companies would be more likely to come up with a solution to this privacy related question if they worked together rather than battle each other. The city's broad-based critiques of Uber suggest that such a cooperative approach is unlikely to happen any time soon.

This article first appeared in Calwatchdog.

Photo Credit: Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA/Newscom

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  • Last of the Shitlords||

    FFS, the city of SF is so fucking insufferable. It would be hilarious if Trump put them under martial law. Just kidding. But yeah, they're a bunch of assholes.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    They are, aren't they? I lived there for a while, great place to live geographically, except for the isolation factor -- anything you want to do north or east requires crossing a bridge, anything to the south requires considerable travel past cemeteries and bedroom suburbs, so people end up just staying in the city and becoming isolated from everything else.

    But to your point -- I wonder why it is that great cities have such nanny governments. My guess is that the more desirable a place is, the more the government busybodies think they are God's chosen doing God's work. I bet the same applies to leaders of growing unions, and probably applies to growing companies too, but companies have the advantage of being able to go out of business, so CEOs who let it go to their head soon get a correction. Larry Ellison, Bil Gates, Steve Jobs -- their assholery is limited, unlike politicians who both add laws and dream of higher office.

    And we reward them without fail, because their "businesses" can never fail and will always have room for each new crop. Why can't we have "none of the above" for a ballot choice?

  • ||

    Government nanny's can grab more power if they can scare one group with another. In this case common public v/s Uber and Taxi drivers v/s Uber Drivers.

    A more dense city like SF often has plenty of such groups which you can pit against one another. Now try going to a rancher in Northern California and talk to him about the dangers posed by Uber drivers.

  • NoVaNick||

    I think the reason that once great cities like NYC, Chicago, and arguably SF (it has been a magnet for kooks for the past 50 years at least, so I wouldn't call it great-but it is a beautiful city), have become nanny police states is that the people who live there are too self-absorbed to care or even notice what their city governments are doing. The citizens who turn out to vote for mayor are mostly city employees and union members, so there is no real competition against the prog/democrat power structure.

  • paranoid android||

    I've long held a theory that most people, generally, just want to be left alone to live their lives, and aren't so inclined to bother trying to control others. These people are extremely unlikely to get involved in politics because doing so conflicts with that desire to just live life on their own terms. The people who do want to control others can then basically have the run of the place, unopposed.

  • Rhywun||

    Yeah, somewhere along the way the notion that a "representative" is supposed to represent the views of his constituents - and not himself - got lost.

  • DrZ||

    Very nice observations paranoid android.

    Grist for the thought mill indeed.

    It does make one ponder how to get the "controllers" out of our lives. If those who know what's really going on with respect to individual freedom never acquired positions of power...WTF?

    Arghhh..more stuff to think about.

  • Lawn Darts||

    It's because the people who live there now are completely invested in telling other people what to do, and how to do it. Usually by screaming at you in public places. With spittle flecked lips. In other words, they are control freaks, electing control freaks to do their controlling thing. And if you fail to comply with the controlling thing, "I'm going to call the police!!" is often the next thing they scream at you. The only apparent way to escape being controlled is to be a criminal of some sort. Those folks get carte blanche.

  • gah87||

    No, as a resident of one of those "great cities", I've observed a situation closer to what paranoid android observes: most people want to be left alone, but due to population density, small groups of people can gain critical mass to affect the political system.

    Think about it. Say you live in a city with 100,000 people, and one in 10,000 is a namby pamby nanny state busybody. That's 10 people, and who gives a rat's ass. Multiply that by 100 and you get NYC, and those 10 people just turned into a raucous PAC one thousand strong.

  • Dread Pirate Roberts||

    If only the SF city council was a tenth as concerned about vagrants defecating on the sidewalks.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Governments will govern, poorly by default, and while I leave open the theoretical possibility that some government, somewhere, somewhen, may actually have governed well, this sure isn't such a place or time.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    "Maybe we should get us some of that ree-form."

    "We can't be the ree-form candidate, you idjit! We's the incumbent!"

  • DrZ||

    We's not the incumbent, we's the enemy.

  • Dizzle||

    The easy solution is uber and other ride-shares pull out and consumers speak out. I'm from Pittsburgh, Uber is building a massive test facility for their robotic cars, which are already on our streets. Yet our city has been retroactively trying to increase regulations on them as the totally crap taxi drivers started to whine. The average wait for a cab in my city? 3-4 hours if your lucky and a cabby decides to stop sitting at the airport.

    So were siding with a crappy union that's brought no growth to the region over a company willing to invest millions in our city. I'd imagine its just the same in SF. Its funny watching liberal wannabe tech cities grapple between their union ass kissing yet maintaining their "tech friendlines".

  • Longtobefree||

    Option 1. Uber pulls out completely and mounts an ad campaign to remind voters every day why the have few choices in transportation. Continue until the next election. If the council is not turned out in favor of one that will ease regulatory burdens, stay out of SF completely.
    Option 2. Drivers spend the few hundred bucks to register a corporation and get a PO box. I will assume California is more expensive than Florida for that move, but it was trivial when I ran my consulting business as a corporation. And the expenses are deductible.
    Option 3. Who cares? It is California. Secede already!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Unfortunately, you just have to keep fighting these bureaucrats. Many of these petty rules and laws don't get much attention and now they are because they are being used to keep crony capitalists in power. Taxis have donated to campaigns for many years and it is time to collect.

    Uber cannot pull out of these cities as I am sure that is where they make the most money.

  • Roger Wilco||

    The city attorney's office also complained that, because ridesharing companies such as Uber are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, it has "limited the ability of cities to provide oversight." The statement criticizes Uber for its backing of Senate Bill 182, which "would prohibit local jurisdictions from requiring a transportation network company driver to obtain more than one business license, regardless of the number of jurisdictions in which they operate," according to the Senate bill analysis.

    How can we NIMBY if we can't require our own local permits????

  • Phos||

    Uber should provide a PO box address and have all the drivers put that as the business address.I don't know why they would actually get mail sent to that address, but if they do they could come by and pick it up, or Uber could scan and email it to the driver.

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    They can't because it would imply the drivers are employees of Uber, which there was already a lawsuit about.

    Might make sense for the drivers to use their own P.O. boxes though.

  • paranoid android||

    I like how the chief evidence presented of Uber's nefariousness is usually that they have the gall to resist efforts by local governments to control, extort from, or destroy their business. The nerve of some people!

  • Brandybuck||

    People wonder why Hillary Clinton lost the election. One of the reason is that the Democrat Party which she represents is fully on board these kinds of attacks on the sharing economy. The Democrats are about using the government to entrench old school regulatory and business models. True, the Republicans are just as much opposed to change, but at least they don't pretend to be the voice of the enlightened class.

    These kinds of attacks on Uber by the most progressive city in the US is not endearing young progressives to the establishment.

  • Rhywun||

    If young progressives don't want to pay artificially inflated prices on transportation, maybe they really don't need to be going anywhere anyway.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    What's funny is how many of these young judgmental assholes don't have licenses themselves but feel empowered to tell everyone else how, when, where, when, what, and who they can drive. Its almost like they know nothing of responsibility or self respect.

  • Brian||

    It gets harder and harder to tell the difference between good, progressive governance and creepy stalkers.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The City of San Francisco filed suit last week against the ridesharing service Uber after the company filed a motion in court to block the release of a drivers' personal information

    We do the same thing in Seattle, and it was union-backed, union-written legislation that was unanimously passed by the ongoing criminal enterprise known as the City Council.

  • gah87||

    That's the ticket. This has little to do with "licensing", and a lot to do with making sure "employees" (in quotes because it's ill defined) work for employers so the employees can be forced into unions.
    That is all.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Aren't addresses already public information? In texas if you own a house your tax assessment is posted online.

    Is the real concern having a list of uber drivers that taxi unions can firebomb?

  • Brandybuck||

    Ostensibly it's so SF knows who to send the business fee bill to. But given the city attorney's statements, it's clear that they want to addresses so that they can intimidate the drivers.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Yes, that's why the law was passed.

    Also, yes, your address is on line if you own a home, but it's not a concise list of people with a specific day job aggregated into a public forum.

  • Tionico||

    Pretty sharp, there.... I imagine the Ubermenchen have no issue with the sity gummit HAVING their info... the Ubermenchen beef is that the city want to put that information out on a webside accessible to all. So, yes, that WOULD make it far too easy for the union goons to locate and firebomb the Uber driver houses. For what purpose I will leave YOU to decide.

    Just more fear and intimidation and subjugation for the little guys. Ve ah een conntroll, und ve vill SCHTAY dat vay......

  • Empress Trudy||

    Fair enough. Now publish the names and addresses of EVERY city employee along with their job title and role, in case, well, you need to petition your government and whatnot.

  • dchang0||

    Doxxing these evil public officials is an excellent response. After all, if they're doing the public's business, they too should be held to the same standard that they shove upon other businesses.

    I'd also like to see Uber publish in real-time the location of any city officials if they happen to be riding in Uber vehicles.

  • Heywood||

    "Progressives" aren't very progressive at all, when it threatens the status quo.

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