Pittsburgh’s #UberFiles dropped years ago

Vice reported on former Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s chummy-until-it-wasn’t relationship with Uber’s then CEO Travis Kalanick in 2016 and 2017.

Uber’s AV testing in Pittsburgh (Photo by Flickr user zombieite via CC 3.0)

On Sunday, The Guardian and other media outlets began to publish reporting on over 124,000 confidential documents leaked from ride-hailing app Uber.

It’s being called, “The Uber Files.”

The files include text messages, email records, and other documents from 2013 to 2017, and reveal how Uber “flouted laws, duped police, exploited violence against drivers and secretly lobbied governments during its aggressive global expansion,” according to the reporting

The amount of data is so much that The Guardian shared it with 180 journalists in 29 countries via The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, who managed and led the reporting with The Guardian.

As of Sunday evening, much of the reporting has been centered around Uber’s efforts in Europe, especially France. The entire cache of documents has not yet been published, and reporting from other news outlets is due to be published in the coming days.

While Pittsburgh has been absent from the initial round of reporting, Uber’s efforts to entice the city’s civic leaders to its cause has already been well-documented.

In October 2016, for Vice, Jason Koebler reported that then Mayor Bill Peduto discussed reducing state fines for Uber with then-CEO Travis Kalanick, whose tenure is at the center of the #UberFiles controversy.

According to the Koebler article, in May 2016, Peduto wrote a letter “at the behest of Uber,” also signed by PA Governor Tom Wolf and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, urging PA’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) to reduce its over $11 million fine for operating in PA without state approval. 

Public records received by Vice in 2016 via right-to-know request.

The article, which is based primarily on emails received via right-to-know request, reports that “Peduto had one-on-one conversations with Kalanick about the letter and also had a conference call about the letter with one of Uber’s top lobbyists a week before publishing it.”

Uber opened its Advanced Technology Group in Pittsburgh in 2015. The company had been operating in Pennsylvania in 2014 without an agreement from the PUC, which led to the fine. 

Another article by Koebler, from May 2017, reported that Peduto and Kalanick’s relationship faded: “Let’s Watch Pittsburgh’s Mayor Slowly Realize Uber Is Not His Friend: a case study in how Uber screws cities with the help of their elected officials.” 

The article ran after a May 2017 New York Times report that detailed how Peduto felt slighted by Uber over disputes regarding promises allegedly made by Kalanick to support the city in workforce development efforts and federal grant applications. 

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He is a 2x 2023 Western PA Press Club Golden Quill award winner, in feature and business reporting. And a 3x finalist in the investigative reporting category.

He is a 2018 first prize winner in environmental reporting from the Keystone Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for reporting on lead in Pittsburgh’s drinking water.

In 2022 and 2021, he was awarded a grant from The Gumshoe Group to support his investigative reporting.