When a state administrative judge moved earlier this month to suspend UberX, the reason cited was that the company that runs the rideshare service hasn't been keeping California Public Utilities Commission officials up to date on its efforts to serve lower-income and disabled people.
As part of the PUC's 2013 approval of such “transportation network companies,” they were required to file data on pickups in certain neighborhoods. Service to the physically challenged also was supposed to be detailed.
The judge said Uber did not fulfill these requirements. Uber is appealing, which will stave off suspension. The company argues that it sees the requirements differently.
Concerns about serving the underserved are reasonable.
In Los Angeles, permitted taxi companies must make pickups in South Los Angeles and provide a number of vehicles that are wheelchair-accessible — sometimes costly requirements that aren't a part of rideshare companies' freewheeling culture. The rationale is that if these companies weren't required to do this, they'd all focus on more lucrative areas, such as LAX.
Uber, however, shot back this week by bringing some data directly the public.
The company asked researchers at BOTEC Analysis to compare taxi service to UberX service. The money conclusion, according to an Uber statement:
Study participants paired up across lower-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles and requested Uber and taxi trips simultaneously. The results show that, on average, UberX rides in those neighborhoods are less than half the price of taxis and arrive in less than half the time.
In your face, state PUC! But hold on a minute.
Although Uber claims it looked at lower-income neighborhoods, the report actually lists Van Nuys, Koreatown-Larchmont-Echo Park, Cypress Park-Elysian Valley-Lincoln Heights and Panorama City-North Hollywood-Valley Glen.
Many of these places are gentrifying rapidly. Some (Larchmont, Elysian Valley, Valley Glen) are hardly lower-income. In fact, parts of Koreatown and Larchmont comprise one of L.A.'s most expensive communities for real estate.
And you'll notice that the true areas of concern — South Los Angeles, physically challenged riders — are left out.
Is Uber really being straight-up about its commitment to serve folks other than young, white professionals and party people? Judge for yourself.