Just a few months ago, everyone was gossiping about the new and blossoming relationship that had emerged between tech giant Uber Technologies and the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In September of 2016, Uber launched its self-driving car pilot program on the hilly streets of the “Burgh.” The original plan was to have 100 cars on the road by the end of 2017. According to some reports, the company originally targeted over 1/3 of the robotics experts and researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, a world-renowned college for technology and computer sciences located in Pittsburgh, in order to head and employ their new division. Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center currently has at least 700 employees. Uber said, “[T]hey were incredibly proud of [their] work in Pittsburgh” and have “invested millions of dollars in the local economy.” Pittsburgh had hoped that this project to modernize city transportation would help win it federal funding.
But not all relationships are meant to last. Democratic Mayor Bill Peduto is tired of being neglected and taken advantage of by Uber, and he has not been shy to voice his feelings. In a report to BuzzFeed, Mayor Peduto described their relationship to be in a “cooling off” period. “We’ve held up our end [of] the bargain,” [Mayor] Peduto said, referring to the city’s cooperation with the company, “but we haven’t seen much from Uber.
As an example, the city turned to Uber for a $25 million grant to help fund an autonomous road project in return for a five-year grant of exclusive use of a proposed city bus way. The company declined the offer. Peduto also suggested that perhaps the company could fund a coding academy in the area in an effort to give back. No progress has been made on such a school. The city is now opening its arms to other autonomous vehicle producers. Peduto claims that he has already contacted other interested industry leaders but does not plan to ask Uber to vacate Pittsburgh.
It is very possible that much of Peduto’s anger is fueled by the company’s connections with President Donald Trump. Peduto apparently was not pleased with CEO Travis Kalanick’s role with Trump’s business advisory council. Additionally, he criticized the company’s actions at JFK International Airport following the Travel Ban Order. “There, Uber charged less than it could have as competing taxi drivers halted service to protest the Republican administration’s temporary travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries.” The company denied that they intended to profit from the protest. Uber even told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that they are fighting for drivers who may be adversely impacted by Trump’s “wrongful” immigration ban by creating a $3 million legal defense fund. As of two weeks ago though, Kalanick stepped down from the President’s advisory council. Hopefully this act will serve as the first step to rekindling the flame between Pittsburgh and Uber and the two can continue to drive forward research and innovation of autonomous technologies.