Pittsburgh has finally realized it’s in a toxic relationship with Uber

A city behind bars.
A city behind bars.
Image: Reuters/Aaron Josefczyk
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The honeymoon is over for Uber and Pittsburgh. After bending over backward to accommodate the ride-sharing company’s driverless car ambitions, city officials are tired of being taken for granted.

“We’ve held up our end of the bargain,” Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto said last week, “but we haven’t seen much from Uber. This is a two-way street, not a one-way. I need to see more interest from them in our communities, both locally and internationally.” City controller Michael Lamb took the analogy even further: “Unfortunately, to this point, the relationship with Uber appears to be a one-way limited-access highway,” he wrote in an email to Peduto. “They currently operate as though they have been given carte blanche access to our city.”

Pittsburgh has put up with Uber for a long time. The city stayed quiet as Uber gutted Carnegie Mellon for robotics talent in early 2015, and welcomed the Advanced Technologies Center it later set up. Pittsburgh wrote a letter in support of Uber when the company was fined $11.4 million for operating in Pennsylvania without permission. And in September, Pittsburgh opened its streets to tests of self-driving cars with real people, and played along with Uber’s hasty and elaborate press event.

From Uber, Pittsburgh wanted help winning the 2016 Smart City Challenge, a US Department of Transportation competition with a $50 million prize. In May 2016, Peduto asked Uber to spend $25 million on a new transit connection from Carnegie Mellon to the neighborhood where it would be testing autonomous vehicles. Uber not only refused, but came back with a laundry list of things that Pittsburgh could do to better accommodate Uberamong them access to bus lanes, designated pick-up and drop-off spots for self-driving cars, and “prioritization of snow removal” on self-driving car routes. ”I would be voted out of office,” Peduto retorted at the time. ”You aren’t offering anything back to the public.”

The final straw seemed to arrive last weekend after #deleteUber—a movement that started over a taxi protest in New York—unleashed years of accumulated ill will against the company. Pittsburgh officials took the opportunity to criticize Uber’s treatment of the city. Peduto, who attended a protest of US president Donald Trump’s immigration ban at Pittsburgh International Airport on Jan. 29, said he was “very disappointed” in Uber and had “told their CEO so.” On Feb. 4, protestors marched on the Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, decrying the company’s “one-way” partnership with workers.

Just five short months ago, Pittsburgh was still positive on its new relationship. When Peduto spoke to Quartz in September, he was optimistic about what Pittsburgh could gain from Uber: data to improve its smart traffic lights, additional services for its senior citizens and commuters with disabilities, substantial job growth if Uber moved any of its vehicle-manufacturing processes to the city. But today Pittsburgh has none of those things, and Uber’s biggest show of affection remains a $10,000 donation to a local women’s shelter.

A one-way limited-access highway indeed.