The relationship between Uber and city mayor sours.
PITTSBURGH — This city was supposed to be a bright spot for Uber — a tech-friendly oasis from its snowballing worldwide travails over taxi rules, labor relations, sexual harassment and an exodus of executives.
Instead, the ride-hailing company’s sharp-elbowed tactics have alienated political leaders in Pittsburgh too, less than eight months after Uber launched a pilot project that uses self-driving Volvos to ferry passengers through the Steel City’s hilly streets.
One of the company’s most vocal critics, Democratic Mayor Bill Peduto, says he originally envisioned Uber’s much-lauded Advanced Technologies Center as a partnership that would bolster the city’s high-tech evolution. Instead, he’s grown frustrated as the company declined to help Pittsburgh obtain a $50 million federal “Smart Cities” grant, rebuffed his suggestions for providing senior citizens with free rides to doctors’ appointments, and lobbied state lawmakers to alter his vision for how self-driving vehicles should be rolled out to the public.
Then came the late January weekend when Uber appeared to side with the Trump administration by undermining a taxi boycott at New York’s JFK International Airport during a protest against the president’s immigration policies.
Peduto, who opposed Uber continuing service during the boycotts, sent a long, blistering text message that evening to Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick, who didn’t respond. (Uber later publicly apologized for “any confusion” it caused.)
It adds up to a “constant drumbeat of Uber not being a good partner, and that’s not the Pittsburgh way,” Peduto said in a sit-down interview with POLITICO. “Uber wanted to use our public right-of-ways and didn’t want to be engaged with the city when it needed something.”
Companies that care only about profit and not societal benefit will see their business models hurt eventfully, the mayor predicted. “Because eventually someone is going to create a better app,” he said. “And when that app also has somebody driving the vehicle have health care to take care of their family, it’s not going to be cooler to roll up in an Uber.”
Uber disputes Peduto’s characterization, saying the company and the city maintain a great relationship.