by the Orlando Sentinel’s Ryan Gillespie
When Maitland, Lake Mary, Sanford, Altamonte Springs and Longwood reached the deal with the ride-sharing giant last year, they agreed not to disclose Uber’s ridership information. That includes dates of rides, total trips and total fares.
Although the cities have the information, Uber considers it a “trade secret,” which shields it from Florida’s broad public records laws. While the vast majority of government records are available for the public’s review, information that gives businesses an advantage is protected under Florida’s trade secret exemption.
First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said much of the data shouldn’t be exempt, and governments shouldn’t have agreed to the provision.
“Knowing that Uber took a bunch of people from the SunRail on Dec. 13 doesn’t affect Uber’s business,” Petersen said. “[The cities] shouldn’t be entering into a contract that keeps non-trade secrets exempt, and that’s what they’ve done.”
Uber called the agreement the “first of its kind” in a news release last year, but has since reached similar deals with the Pinellas County Suncoast Transit Authority and Summit, N.J.
Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz said the one-year deal was reached in hopes of boosting SunRail ridership and to explore cheaper alternatives to moving people around cities. The contract expires in July.
Under the plan, the cities pay 25 percent of Uber fares on rides that start or finish at a SunRail station, and also start or finish within a city’s limits. The governments also also cover 20 percent of the cost of the ride on trips that start and finish within participating cities.
Uber claimed the trade-secret exemption after a Broward County Circuit judge initially ruled in its favor in a suit brought by Yellow Cab last year. In the filing, Yellow Cab asked that Uber’s monthly report of trips, including stops at the county-owned port and airport, be made public, just as Lyft’s and Yellow Cab’s records are public.
Judge Sandra Perlman at first ruled the information was a trade secret, but she changed her mind in August. Her August ruling states the total ridership and fees paid to the county are not a trade secret. Uber is appealing.
“The State of Florida has enacted laws to ensure that companies that do business with governmental entities can provide sensitive business or user information without that information being made public,” Uber spokesman Javi Correoso said in an email. “It is common for private companies to rely on these laws to prevent the disclosure of sensitive information, and that is what Uber is doing here.”
The secrecy clauses in the Uber deal were an issue for Maitland city attorney Cliff Shepard when the city became involved in talks last year.
“I specifically and strenuously had a problem with this whole public records issue,” Shepard said. “I was concerned that if Maitland said no to a request, we’d be hauled to litigation.”
In Altamonte Springs, Martz said, “We’ve seen anecdotal evidence that there’s been an increase in Uber since we started.”
But Maitland officials told the Winter/Maitland Observer last month the program was off to a slow start. City Manager Sharon Anselmo said she only had two months of data available, indicating the city owed Uber about $125.
Lisa Holder, Sanford communications officer, said the pilot has been well received in Sanford, and officials are looking forward to discussing results when the cities eventually convene for a meeting about it.
Debate over trade secret exemptions arose last month over a dispute between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and hip-hop superstar Pitbull. [READ MORE]