We first heard about it last week, and now City Attorney Dennis Herrera makes it official, filing a lawsuit to compel Uber to hand over the names and addresses of all its local drivers so that SF can contact them and tell them they need a business license to operate here. It's a request that Uber previously complied with, but as of December they refused the request from the city treasurer, citing privacy concerns for its driver fleet.
Herrera issued a statement Thursday saying "The law requires any business in San Francisco to register with the Treasurer and Tax Collector’s Office, whether they’re PG&E or a hairdresser. Uber and its drivers are no different. San Franciscans have a right to know who is behind the wheel when they’re being driven somewhere."
As the Chronicle reports, competitor Lyft has been far more cooperative, complying with City Treasurer Jose Cisneros's request and giving over information on 57,000 local drivers, though only 20,000 of those have so far paid their $91 license fees. It's likely that there is a lot of overlap since many drivers work for both ride-hailing companies simultaneously.
Drivers have apparently complained to Uber about the red tape, and about having their personal information posted online but the city contends that the drivers can have their information shielded by simply creating a business name for themselves, and using a PO Box. "Uber is trying to dodge a tax law under the cloak of driver privacy,” Cisneros tells the Chronicle, adding, “If Uber wanted to protect their drivers, they could make them employees and pay them living wages. Uber certainly doesn’t deserve a special carve out from our laws and our taxes."
Meanwhile, Uber is campaigning in support of a state bill, currently working its way through the California legislature, that would allow Uber and Lyft drivers to file a single license to operate in all California counties at once. Uber's even put up a petition, which has been signed by over 12,000 purported drivers, under the sub-heading "Protect my Private Information."
Also, as the Chronicle reports, the city is pushing for both Uber and Lyft to tell them exactly how many of their drivers are operating on San Francisco's streets information that so far they've only shared confidentially with the California Public Utilities Commission.
The fight, of course, is similar to the one that's been waged against home-sharing sites Airbnb and HomeAway to try to get the companies to force their hosts to comply with local laws. SF won the latest battle in that war, with both companies settling with the city last week and agreeing to make their local hosts all register with the city.