Uber Enters the City Planning Game


For the moment, red-hot car rental service Uber seems to have abandoned efforts to get along with “shady” reporters in favor of a new target audience: city officials.

The government relations project, which will begin in Boston, involves Uber sharing its collective trip logs with the planners who help direct traffic.

Why is the company doing this? It’s not an act of generosity or corporate responsibility; rather, it’s an attempt to “make a stronger case for its legitimacy” in cities where elected officials may, for some odd reason, prefer legally established transportation providers.

So yes, it is effectively a PR campaign.

It’s also something of a “thank you” to Boston, which recently voted to make ridesharing an official mode of transportation. The idea is that city planners could use Uber’s data, which it is sharing publicly for the first time, to better design roads and make traffic routes more effective over time.

Before you ask, Uber promises that information about the people driving and riding in the cars that provided this data will remain unknown to everyone but its own executives. And the company has yet to satisfy Senator Al Franken’s request for an explanation of “God View,” or the massive data dashboard that inspired conflicting statements during the company’s BuzzFeed-sponsored PR disaster in late 2014.

One of the cities that still harbors mixed feelings about Uber is New York. As Dana Rubenstein of Capital New York reported last night, officials within the Democratic Party can’t even seem to agree on whether ride-sharing is a good thing, with one councilman referring to the sponsor of a bill design to curb surge pricing as “un-American.”

The story also provides a reminder that — if we’re discussing cars and drivers — Uber officially employs no one and owns nothing.

So an app and the data it collects are worth upwards of $40 billion dollars. Have a nice Tuesday.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.