Portland opening investigation on Uber ‘Greyball’ practice - KPTV - FOX 12

Portland opening investigation on Uber ‘Greyball’ practice

Posted: Updated: Mar 06, 2017 08:28 PM
PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

Following reports of ride-hailing service Uber using a special program to get around city regulators, including those in Portland, Mayor Ted Wheeler and other city officials said Monday they are opening an investigation into the matter.

Calling the reports about Uber developing the program “very concerning,” Wheeler said he is taking them seriously, especially since the allegations cover times during which Uber was already operating illegally in the Portland market.

Wheeler and City Commissioner Dan Saltzman said they were working to ensure that the “Greyball” practices were no longer being used in Portland, and that their investigation had the full support of the council.

Reports released last week claim that Uber created programs that would “Greyball” certain users, feeding their apps false data like map locations with cars that were not actually there.

The mayor also claimed that while the city has agreed to regulations governing services like Uber, the company has lobbyists working in Salem in an effort to create state-wide rules that Wheeler described as “more-lenient.”

Saltzman said the Portland Bureau of Transportation will be starting the investigation and reviewing the compliance audits and rider complaints of both Uber and Lyft within 30 days.

He added that both he and the mayor will be reaching out directly to leadership in both companies to have both companies state in writing that they will not engage in practices meant to circumvent regulators. Saltzman noted that representatives from both companies told the city they would be open to working with regulators on the investigation.

According to Saltzman, city regulations covering both Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs, gives the city access to the data needed for the investigation.

Wheeler then added that while the transportation bureau will be the lead agency on the investigation, he still reserves the right to bring in third-parties to further dig into the issue.

“Uber has every right to have their side of the story clearly heard, but I am not yet convinced nor have I seen any evidence to suggest to me that we have anything close to the facts,” he said. “I don’t know whether or not local laws or state laws were potentially violated, and we don’t have a confirmation yet, at least I don’t have a confirmation yet, that Uber has discontinued the practice of Greyballing.”

When asked about what part of the regulations allowed the city to verify whether or not Greyballing had occurred, Saltzman said he was confident investigators would have plenty of data.

“I believe we have pretty strong powers,” he said. “We’re going to look at all of the inspections that we have done over the past year and a half and see whether we discern any patterns. We are going to look at complaints that individuals have filed with us that may or may not have to do with Greyballing itself. And then we are going to, as needed, seek information from the companies to help us round out the investigation to get a more complete picture.

Both Wheeler and Saltzman said that they were first informed of the term “Greyballing” by reports in the New York Times, but PBOT Director Leah Treat added city regulators did believe during the time they were reviewing Uber’s initial operation in the city that the company was using some method in order to avoid regulators.

Treat noted that since the official pilot program allowing the TNCs to operate in the city began, there has been no evidence indicating the services are still using those same avoidance methods.

Wheeler said that while he realizes how many people rely on services from companies like Uber, he questioned the “forthrightness” the company used in following regulations meant to ensure the safety of passengers.

“Just because you’re smart, successful and rich does not mean you’re bestowed with ethics,” he said. “And this company seems to repeatedly demonstrate this point for the rest of us.”

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