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Spokane judge orders Lyft, Uber to provide ridership records

Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft must release records showing the number of trips they’ve provided and payments to the City of Spokane, a judge ruled last month.

“Although the disclosure would allow competitors of (the companies) to analyze their market share, the Court does not find that they would suffer substantial or irreparable harm,” Spokane County Superior Court Judge John O. Cooney wrote in a Nov. 20 decision upholding a Spokesman-Review public records request for the data.

The San Francisco-based companies Lyft and Uber, which provide rides to customers by pairing them with independently contracted drivers using a smartphone application, have fought multiple public records requests throughout the country. Many of those requests included information about drivers, prompting courts to restrict release.

Lyft is currently valued somewhere around $2.5 billion, according to reporting by The New York Times. Uber is valued at about $50 billion.

The documents released by the city so far show the two companies – who signed contracts in September 2014 to begin operating in Spokane – provided a combined 20,238 rides in the last three months of last year. That’s roughly 223 rides per day, with Lyft outperforming Uber over that period nearly 2-to-1.

The companies, which have drawn criticism from traditional taxicab services for skirting licensing processes and fare regulations, fought the release of the records, saying the information requested by The Spokesman-Review, The Spokane Journal of Business and a private citizen amounted to trade secrets.

Cooney rejected that argument, ruling the number of rides and payments to the city were not proprietary information.

“(The companies’) trade secrets are the smartphone application and the process in which the application facilitate a ride-sharing system,” Cooney wrote in his ruling.

The Spokesman-Review was represented in the lawsuit by Emily Arneson of the Spokane firm Witherspoon Kelley. Editor Gary Graham applauded the ruling.

“We welcome Judge Cooney’s ruling in favor of our public records request,” he said. “As recent events in our community have shown, the public records law is an important tool to monitor government and business activities.”

In response to the court’s decision, Uber released a statement that did not address the ruling through Kate Downen, a company spokeswoman.

“We’re focused on bringing the best service possible to Spokane, and will continue working with the city to do that,” she said.

Hailey Landrus, an attorney for Lyft, declined comment for this story.

Judith Spitzer, working for the Journal of Business, originally requested the ridership records in February, which also show the fees paid to the city based on a 10-cent per ride charge contained in the companies’ contracts. The contracts with the city require both companies to provide quarterly ridership reports. After Spitzer filed her request, Spokesman-Review reporter Nick Deshais filed a similar request in March.

Cooney had approved a preliminary injunction preventing the release of the requested records at a hearing in March. That ruling was overturned with the Nov. 20 order.

The city provided the fourth quarter 2014 numbers to the Spokesman-Review on Nov. 25. The records total six pages and show a payments of $700.20 by Uber and $1,323.60 by Lyft to the city to cover administrative and licensing costs, per the contracts.

The Spokane City Council in August extended its contracts with the two companies through the end of 2016. The contracts include a provision that requires the city to inform Lyft or Uber if a public records request is filed for the ridership information.

City staff are compiling records for the first and second quarters of 2015 for release.

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