Monthly Archives: October 2014

Uber’s data could be a treasure trove for cites. But they’re wasting the chance to get it.

By Emily Badger

(REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)

The District of Columbia passed new legislation this week legalizing services like UberX and Lyft that allow non-professional drivers with their own personal cars to compete with traditional taxis. In a sign that Uber got pretty much what it wanted out of the city, the company then held a press call Wednesday afternoon to celebrate.

“I think you’re seeing some momentum here,” said David Plouffe, Uber’s brand new senior vice president of policy and strategy, citing the District’s legislation as a model for the rest of the country. “Maybe even Uber-mentum, if you want to be cute.”

The city’s new law, opposed by the taxi industry, requires Uber and its competitors to register with the D.C. Taxicab Commission and provide $1 million primary insurance coverage to drivers from the moment they accept a ride to the time they drop off a passenger. Drivers will also have to go through criminal background checks, and their cars annual inspections.

Uber no longer disputes any of these requirements — insurance, background checks, vehicle safety — as anti-innovation or unnecessary. But the District did fail to get out of Uber one thing that the company is still reluctant to give: access to its data.

Such data could be tremendously valuable to local governments, but one city after the next has been leaving it on the table. Uber amasses vast amounts of information on when and where it collects passengers and where it takes them. Anonymized versions of this data — designed to protect the privacy of individual drivers and riders — would help cities verify that Uber drivers aren’t discriminating against certain neighborhoods or disabled passengers, that Uber is actually weeding out drivers who do, that the company is truly serving the public in exchange for the public’s confidence in …read more

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Fed looks toward debate on raising rates as quantitative easing ends

By Ylan Q. Mui

United States Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Economic Conference on Inequality of Economic Opportunity in Boston, Massachusetts October 17, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS)

United States Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

The Federal Reserve closed a chapter in its long-running stimulus campaign on Wednesday and pivoted to the even bigger challenge of deciding when to raise interest rates after six years of easy money.

The central bank slashed its benchmark interest rate to zero when the nation was in the grips of the financial crisis in 2008 and has kept it there ever since. The move has helped keep interest rates low on a wide range of loans – from mortgages to corporate borrowing – helping push the economy out of recession and into a strengthening recovery.

But with the announcement Wednesday that the Fed would end its $3 trillion bond-buying program often described as a “booster shot” for the economy, the central bank now will turn more sharply toward a serious discussion of when to raise rates.

“The moment has clearly come to take the monetary training wheels off the economy,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at The Economic Outlook Group.

The debate over when to raise rates, which has already begun, will prove tricky for the Fed — and likely the biggest challenge of Janet Yellen’s tenure since she took over as head of the central bank early this year. Fed officials, who have suggested that the move could come in the middle of next year, hope that it causes little disruption.

But achieving that delicate balance is the most basic dilemma of central banking. If the Fed moves too soon, it could undermine the recovery. If it waits too long, it could breed the next financial bubble as investors take too many risks backed by the belief the Fed will always be stimulating the economy.

When Fed officials suggested in …read more

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This is what it’s like to try to get a Voter ID when you’re disabled, poor or don’t drive

By Emily Badger

An election official checks a voter’s photo identification at an early voting polling site in Austin in February of this year. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

What’s the big deal about getting an ID? You need one, after all, to participate in society in all kinds of other ways — to drive, to get married, to buy beer. Surely the requirement to show an ID on Election Day can’t be that burdensome.

This is a common defense of Voter ID laws like the kind now on the books in Texas, ostensibly meant to curb voter fraud. But it glosses over the reality of life for some voters, who may struggle to get around because of disabilities, who may lack the seemingly small sums necessary to pay for documentation, who may not have the flexible scheduling to visit a government office twice, or three times, or more.

Small obstacles like these are magnified in the frantic days leading up to the election — and add to this the confusion that ensues when people who have voted for years are suddenly told at their familiar polling places they don’t have what they need this time.

In the end, you get scenarios like this one, described by the Brennan Center forJustice at NYU in a roundup of actual complications arising right now in Texas during early voting:

Olester McGriff, an African-American man, lives in Dallas. He has voted in several Texas elections. This year when he went to the polls he was unable to vote due to the new photo ID law. Mr. McGriff had a kidney transplant and can no longer drive; his driver’s license expired in 2008. He tried to get an ID twice prior to voting. In May, he visited an office in Grand Prairie and was told he could not …read more

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