Uber starts releasing transit data to cities

Following a conflict with New York City over its ride data, Uber has begun giving some of its transit information to Boston in a pilot program. It’s using ZIP codes as the basis for the place-based information, and it’s anonymizing some of the details to protect riders and passengers.

In a blog post, Uber suggested that Boston would serve as a trial for the program before the company expands it to other cities. Uber isn’t handing over any pricing details, but it is giving cities information on every ride’s drop off and pick up ZIP codes, the time of day each occurred, distance and time of each trip, and “technical support” for combing through the data.

As Gigaom’s Derrick Harris noted in a previous post on the company’s data strategy, “Uber certainly appears to see data as an important arrow in its quiver as it fights for legitimacy in cities around the world.” In the past it has hand-selected which data sets to release, publishing a blog post to prove it wasn’t discriminating against low-income riders in Chicago and months later publishing information to argue that Boston should extend its public transit hours.

However, this is the first time the company has agreed to give ongoing data information on key topics to a city government.

New York will be glad to hear it given that its Taxi & Limousine Tribunal recently suspended five out of six Uber bases for not handing over trip data. Uber is still in negotiations with NYC’s Taxi and Limousine Commission over it. Local governments want the information because it helps them plan everything from public transit routes to traffic patterns to emergency response protocols. It also allows regulators to ensure that transportation companies aren’t discriminating against people in certain neighborhoods.

Until now, Uber had resisted giving its data away, citing concerns about trade secrets. Trade secrets could mean a lot of things, but as some have pointed out, Uber was probably worried, in part, about local governments using Uber data to help taxis work more efficiently.

Services with Airbnb pricing data grow as the king stays quiet

Successful new companies generate new business opportunities, as other companies emerge in their wake to support them and find their own profits, and Airbnb is no different. As more and more consumers are renting their properties on Airbnb — and some are doing so full-time as their own business — a spate of companies have formed to help Airbnb renters become mini real estate agents.

Airdna is one such offering. It combs Airbnb data to give people information on average Airbnb prices in their neighborhood, as well as analytics like most popular amenities offered in your area and the effects of using Airbnb’s Instant Book feature.

Based in Santa Monica, the product is built and marketed by a father-son team. Airdna started out as an e-book written by the son, Scott Shatford. It offered directions and advice to those looking to rent Airbnb apartments full-time. Shatford soon realized that Airbnb’s wealth of data, once organized, would be its own business opportunity. He calls it the “Wild, Wild West.”

“We’re making this leap of faith that people really want to get smart and data-driven about Airbnb,” Shatford told me.

Airdna is a freemium product, and you can access basic information — such as what can you expect to make in your city based on the size of your place — for free. The more detailed report of your area costs $30.

Airdna faces some stiff competition. A few other companies have cropped up with similar offerings. Beyond Pricing is one such product, and its slick beautiful design puts Airdna’s early 2000s look to shame. Airenvy is another competitor in the field, although it’s a little different. It manages your property for a fee, using a price fixing algorithm to determine the best price for the season, market availability, and area.

These are the kinds of companies that will help the nascent apartment sharing industry mature and reach a mainstream population. But their businesses are probably at the mercy of Airbnb’s whims; Airbnb offers a rudimentary room recommendation price already for its hosts (albeit not one sophisticated enough to consider seasonal or day-to-day demand changes).

If Airbnb wanted to kill these counterpart companies by producing its own data analytics, it could at any time. We’ve seen it happen before, whether it’s Twitter killing off Twitpic by introducing its own photo upload feature or Facebook rolling out a music player to compete with iLike.

Portland sues Uber, sends cease-and-desist letter

Last week, Uber launched illegally in Portland and on Monday, Portland fought back. The city is suing the company for its expand-first-apologize-later approach. Portland regulators are asking the court to rule that Uber is subject to the city’s taxi regulations. The city also sent Uber a cease-and-desist letter, because it wants Uber to stop operating until it is complying with “safety, health and consumer protection rules.” Regulatory battles are nothing new for Uber, which is currently facing backlash in India after a passenger was raped by an Uber driver.

San Francisco will charge tech shuttles for using public stops

In a move designed to ease the growing tensions between deep-pocketed Silicon Valley workers and activists on behalf of lower-income communities forced out of their homes, San Francisco mayor Ed Lee announced Monday that tech shuttle buses will now be subject to a fee based on the number of public stops they frequent, according to SF Gate. The tech shuttle buses have borne the brunt of the struggle over the income disparity within the city, and some have been vandalized during protests. The move may take some of the heat off of tech workers’ transportation choices, but it’s unlikely that tensions will dissipate completely.

Think’s First U.S.-Made Electric Cars Are Here

Twenty-year-old Norwegian auto maker Think is kicking off the U.S. market this morning by delivering its first U.S.-made Think City’s to the state of Indiana for a government fleet.