By John Tomassi
Imagine this scenario: A wealthy corporation with an alleged criminal history applies for a license to operate in New York. The state grants the license without conducting any investigation into the group’s potentially unlawful activities.
It sounds hard to believe. But it is essentially what will happen if Uber’s upstate expansion is approved in the state budget this month. That is because the company has already admitted to using secret Greyball technology to evade police and operate illegally in cities worldwide.
New York lawmakers must not let Uber expand statewide until it answers tough questions about whether it used these anti-law enforcement tactics in our state.
New investigative reporting has revealed much of what Uber actually did with its Greyball technology. In cities where the company’s service was restricted or not yet legal, it used the program to identify and undermine police sting operations that were meant to enforce local laws.
It is possible that Uber used Greyball in New York. After all, many illegal pickups have already been confirmed throughout the Hudson Valley and Long Island. When we asked Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate, Uber did not deny using Greyball in New York and merely said it was “looking carefully” at the technology.
State lawmakers know this – and that is exactly why they should not greenlight Uber in the budget deal expected by April 1.
And whenever we do get answers about Greyball in New York, lawmakers will still have to grapple with Uber’s long list of ethical and legal failures.
Let’s not forget about multiple reports of sexual harassment at Uber, followed by news that a senior vice president resigned after concealing his history of alleged harassment at a past job.
There was the video of CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver who had expressed concerns about low wages and struggling to make ends meet. It is getting clearer that, beneath its promises, Uber cares very little about supporting drivers and their families.
Uber’s disregard for drivers can be chalked up to its ultimate goal of replacing humans with driverless cars. Even on that front, the company has refused to play by the rules. Uber was hammered by state authorities in California after deploying driverless cars last year without applying for necessary permits.
Our message on safety regulations has always been clear: Uber should fingerprint its drivers upstate, just as it already does in New York City and just as taxis do across the state. As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says, what’s good for downstate is good for upstate.
But it is now clear that more must be done to keep this $60 billion company and its reckless executives in check. Investigating the Greyball program is the best place to start.
Uber may be powerful, but it doesn’t write the rules in New York. Lawmakers must remember that.
John Tomassi is president of the Upstate Transportation Association.