NYC Disrupts Disruptors

Key Players in NYC Taxi World Call For Investigation Into Uber’s Hiring of Former TLC Deputy Commissioner Ashwini Chhabra

This morning, the New York Times reported that Ashwini Chhabra, the deputy commissioner for policy and planning at the Taxi and Limousine Commission, was leaving to become Uber’s head of policy development and community engagement. While eyebrows were raised at the public-to-private revolving door, officials within the Taxi and Limousine Commission have long questioned Mr. Chhabra’s loyalty.

In an email obtained by Betabeat, Gene Freidman, the second largest Medallion owner in New York, told Meera Joshi, the head of the TLC, that Mr. Chhabra has long been acting as double agent between Uber and the TLC.

“Dear commissioner joshi

About 4-5 weeks ago, ethan and myself as well as ashwini sat in your office @ the tlc and accused ashwini of working for uber presently and in the past, and ethan actually showed him the same picture as is used in the nyt spot attached!

On a day when the usa is filing criminal charges against China for hacking private companies and stealing their intelligence and as such it has become a national threat, I would insist as a major stake holder in this industry ‎that the tlc open a DOI investigation into this matter

As we well know, ashwini was placed @ tlc by mayor bloomberg, and we also know that bloomberg llp is a major investor in lyft!

I hope this email is not out of order

Thank you

Gene Freidman”

The email refers to Ethan Gerber, the Executive Director of the Greater New York Taxi Association. Mr. Gerber is also a co-founder, board member and counsel to the Association. Betabeat spoke with Mr. Gerber via phone in regards to this email. Mr. Gerber confirmed his belief that Mr. Chhabra’s loyalty has long been with Uber, rather than the TLC.

DisruptorsOver the last year, Mr. Gerber, Mr. Freidman and others in the NYC taxi industry have been working to create an app that would hail black, green and yellow cars, as well as handicap accessible cars. This was intended to be an “NYC universal app, for all licensed TLC car.” Mr. Gerber said the supporters of the app “haven’t gotten anywhere with the suggestion. We got push back from Mr. Chhabra. We always got push back. Now we see why there was that push back.”

At the same time that Mr. Gerber says Mr. Chhabra was advocating against a TLC hailing app, he was attending technology conferences supporting this kind of new technology. The picture noted in Mr. Freidman’s email was taken at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. Mr. Gerber had received photos of Mr. Chhabra at the conference, and felt that Mr. Chhabra was looking to “disrupt” the very industry he worked within.

Mr. Chhabra at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference.

Mr. Chhabra at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference. Photo courtesy of Mr. Ethan Gerber.

“Everything he did has been helpful to Uber but resistant to technological progress for yellow [cabs],” said Mr. Gerber, “He’s the guy who has been making policies, and those policies have been greatly beneficial to the app companies and harmful to the yellow, green, and black cars.”

Now, the Greater New York Taxi Association and major taxi Medallion owners are calling for an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Chhabra’s hiring. This investigation would be conducted by the city’s Department of Investigation, and perhaps Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “There should be an investigation, whether he had a conflict of interest while working for the TLC and whether that conflict was exploited,” said Mr. Gerber, “It would seem that he had the interests of Uber at heart while working for the TLC. One doesn’t get a job like that overnight. Mr. Chhabra was working for the TLC and negotiating with Uber.”

Betabeat consulted Uber directly for information surrounding Mr. Chhabra’s hiring. While Uber spokesperson Lane Kasselman did not confirm when negotiations began with Mr. Chhabra, they did say his start date was today and that “[Uber] asked Ashwini to join us to focus on turning complex policy questions into smart answers and scalable solutions.” Presumably, he filed a two week notice and negotiated his salary, terms and contract before that time. This could result in a month of overlap for Mr. Chhabra, during which his interests were torn between competing organizations.

While the TLC official may not have signed a traditional non-compete form, the City does have a “Conflicts of Interest Law.” This law “prohibits City employees from (a) having an ownership interest in a firm doing business with any City agency; and (b) communicating with any City agency on behalf of any private interest.” The requested investigation would aim to determine if Mr. Chhabra had an impermissible conflict of interest.

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