Editorial: Uber Motors Back to San Francisco

February 11, 2017

Sacramento Bee Editorial Board

For a state that prides itself on encouraging innovation, the news landed like a lump of Christmas-time coal: Uber pulls self-driving cars off California roads, the various headlines read.

Uber, in a pique over regulations it claimed were unfair, loaded its 16 semi-autonomous Volvos onto trucks in San Francisco in December and transported them to Arizona and the welcoming arms of Gov. Doug Ducey.

“While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses,” Ducey declared.

Uber, which cultivates an edgy image, may have thought it had pulled a slick move. Hardly. Uber recently returned to the California Department of Motor Vehicles to register a half-dozen self-driving Fords. Uber intends to use the cars to map San Francisco, as a step toward using the experimental technology in the city.

And although Uber’s Volvos remain in Arizona, the company still is mapping the area, and has not used semi-autonomous vehicles to pick up customers, an Uber spokeswoman said. She also said Uber never intended to abandon California.

Whatever the reason for the show, perhaps the San Francisco-based company has concluded it isn’t wise to alienate customers in a market of 39 million people, or annoy regulators and lawmakers. Sen. Jerry Hill, a Peninsula Democrat, responded by introducing legislation, SB 145, he hopes will streamline regulations, but added that Uber was “sticking a stick” in California’s eye needlessly. He pointed out that many other companies comply.