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Jason and Burns

Seattle maliciously blames traffic on Uber, Lyft

There's no additional information from rideshare services that SDOT needs to help study traffic in the city's most dense neighborhoods, KIRO Radio's Jason Rantz says. (AP)

It seems so patently obvious that the City of Seattle is trying to blame ride-sharing services for traffic to almost extort them out of proprietary data. I’m almost offended that they think they’ll get away with it.

Watch: Jason Rantz tortured with SDOT birthday gift

In The Seattle Times this week, city transportation officials implied that rideshare services such as show sponsor Uber make traffic worse during certain commutes.

“If Uber and Lyft provided more granular data,” a statement by Seattle Department of Transportation spokeswoman Sue Romero said to Times, “we could optimize the transportation network and use data-driven planning to manage congestion, even as demand for these services continues to grow.”

This is utter nonsense.

A big claim, coming from a NYC-based study, is that rideshare companies could undermine city-run transportation services like the bus, as well as city-backed services like taxis (and their unions, which back city leaders).

Uber has provided SDOT plenty of data and it remains a question as to whether or not they’ve even used it.

But the truth is: there’s no additional information from rideshare services that SDOT needs to help study traffic in the city’s most dense neighborhoods. Perhaps if the SDOT director or the city engineer drove a car on even a semi-regular basis, they’d know what causes much of the area’s traffic: their own ineptitude.

The Mercer Mess is a disaster because SDOT hasn’t figured out how to synchronize the traffic signals. Additionally, the city has actively taken away lanes that drivers used, making them bus- and/or bike-only lanes. Perhaps this is shocking to SDOT, but when you have two lanes packed with cars, forcing those cars to use one lane will make traffic worse. They won’t even let you turn onto side-streets in busy parts of South Lake Union, which just prolongs the time a car will be on an already-busy street, causing more traffic and more pollution along the way.

What I find amusing is that Uber asked SDOT to partner on an information sharing platform that was anonymous and offered non-competitive data. SDOT Director Scott Kubly used this offering to denigrate Uber by maliciously claiming this was “recognizing [Uber’s] impact on transportation congestion in cities.” It’s an ironic statement since SDOT never acknowledges they contribute to congestion (Kubly notoriously claimed that the nine-hour long fish accident clean-up on the viaduct showed how good of a job the city does).

I’m told SDOT declined to partner with Uber on this data-sharing project. Why? Most likely because it doesn’t give them the data the city could use to hurt Uber and protect their taxi union friends.

The SDOT strategy is to pretend they could help figure this all out, if only they had all the data from companies like Uber (or Lyft). But this is a tactic to put pressure on ridesharing companies to publicly release competitively sensitive data that can pit Uber versus Lyft and other competitors while helping taxi cabs.

Jason and Burns on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM

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