SAN FRANCISCO (AP and KTVU) - Uber picked up a hefty tab Wednesday when a judge fined the taxi-alternative company $7.3 million for refusing to give California regulators information about its business practices, including accident details and how accessible vehicles are to disabled riders.
The fine was part of a ruling by an administrative law judge at the California Public Utilities Commission, the regulatory agency that allowed Uber and its competitors such as Lyft to operate in the state as long as the companies reported aspects of their activities.
The judge also ruled that if Uber does not comply with the data requests or file an appeal within 30 days, it could lose its operating license.
The judge agreed with utility commission staff who said Uber has not filed all required reports, specifically about how often it provided disabled-accessible vehicles when requested, places where drivers tend to turn down ride requests, and the causes of accidents.
"The requirement of reporting information is well within the discretion of the Commission," said David Levine, a UC Hastings law professor, who tells KTVU that the CPUC is collecting data necessary to determine whether there is any discrimination in ride-sharing services based on customer disabilities or neighborhood.
"Apparently the other companies, Lyft and other competitors have complied," Levin said, adding that the $7.3 million dollar fine and the judge's order that Uber suspend operations are efforts to get the ride-sharing company to procure the requested data.
"It's a way to create a stick, to create a sanction so that they will comply as quickly as possible but a court needs to confirm that the Commission has that power," Levin told KTVU.
Uber had argued that it provided sufficient information to the commission. The judge acknowledged that Uber provided some information but said it was not enough.
In a written statement, Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend called the ruling and fine "deeply disappointing" and said the company would appeal.
"Uber has already provided substantial amounts of data to the California Public Utilities Commission, information we have provided elsewhere with no complaints," Behrend wrote.
"Going further risks compromising the privacy of individual riders as well as driver-partners. These CPUC requests are also beyond the authority of the Commission and will not improve public safety," she added.
In a written statement, the utilities commission said Uber was the only company of its kind not to comply with the reporting requirements.
Uber has previously tussled with public officials. In Portland, Oregon, for example it had an extended disagreement with the city that led it to suspend operations.
In France, Uber suspended its low-cost service following an escalating legal dispute and sometimes - violent tensions with traditional French taxi drivers. French authorities had ordered the service - called UberPop - shut down, but Uber refused, pending a legal decision at a top French court.
Uber has 30 days to file an appeal with the CPUC. If the Commission agrees with the judge, then Uber could file another appeal with the California Supreme Court.