Uber Pittsburgh Driverless Deal Sours

Things aren’t looking good for Uber after its driverless experiment in Pittsburgh soured relations with local authorities.

Surprised? Me neither.

The New York Times reports that the ride-sharing company didn’t fulfill their end of the bargain in terms of job creation in low-income neighborhoods. They also charged for driverless rides initially pitched to the city as a free “services for the public.”

Moreover, Uber failed to support Mayor Bill Peduto in his application for federal funding to improve transportation last year. Relations between CEO Travis Kalanick and the mayor soon went south:

When it came to what Uber and what Travis Kalanick wanted, Pittsburgh delivered. But when it came to our vision of how this industry could enhance people, planet and place, that message fell on deaf ears.

Kalanick courted Peduto with the benefits of driverless trials back in 2015. The NYT notes that this wooing period came about after Uber hired a number of talented experts away from the Carnegie Mellon University, much to the annoyance of faculty there.

Kalanick & co. say that their testing was beneficial to the area, creating 675 jobs and helping local facilities. Not that the rumblings of a few dissatisfied officials would stop Uber from achieving its goals. A company statement read:

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. We hope to continue to have a positive presence in Pittsburgh by supporting the local economy and community.

There are currently 60 vacancies being advertised for their Advanced Technology Group in Pittsburgh as of May 22. That is five more openings since Driverless previously reported on their recruitment drive there last month. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Uber are sourcing this talent from Pittsburgh, despite Kalanick’s initial promise.

Driverless have reached out to both Mayor Peduto and Uber for comment. Meanwhile, Grayson Brulte, the co-founder of Brulte & Company, said that both Pittsburgh and Uber were to blame for this fiasco in forgoing a written contract with each other. But he added that trust was the crux of the issue:

When it comes to autonomous vehicles, the biggest issue today is trust. In order to put an individual or a three-year-old in a driverless vehicle, you have to have trust. The way that the Uber/Pittsburgh relation is evolving, it’s eliminating trust.

If Uber said they were going to commit $25 million and it gave their word, honor your word. Don’t come up with an excuse like “we didn’t have enough time.” That’s nonsense. You give your word, you keep your word. And if it costs you $25 million to get good-will to operate in a city, then you do it. — Grayson Brulte

However, Brulte also highlighted that this was just “a bump in the road” in comparison to Uber’s ongoing lawsuit with Waymo.

As featured in Driverless on May 22, 2017