Uber’s NYC Campaign Relies Heavily On Minorities. Is That Suspect?
Update: The city and Uber have decided to postpone any caps on the number of cars the car service puts on the street until a four-month study is conducted. A City Council vote was to take place tomorrow.
At the moment, there are more Uber cars than yellow cabs on the streets. Uber has agreed to make more of its cars handicap-accessible and ride data available to the city.
Uber has launched an aggressive advertising campaign in the New York area, taking on Mayor Bill de Blasio who wants to put a limit on the number of people who can subscribe to the car service. In one of the ads, minority drivers, or “partners” in Uber parlance, talk about the benefits of Uber to them and all of the money that Mayor de Blasio has received from the taxi industry. In another (above) various New Yorkers talk about the service that Uber provides to those who may not otherwise get it.
Uber is huge in New York with the number of subscribers growing by 25,000 each week. And it has been credited with servicing customers who oftentimes get ignored by the city’s yellow cabs — residents and visitors to the outer boroughs (areas outside of Manhattan) and Blacks and Latinos.
One of the issues that the government is bringing up is congestion. They’re currently doing studies to assess whether Uber is causing traffic problems.
“We’re here to say to Uber that these are our streets,” said Bhairavi Desai, the head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, at a rally hosted by the newly-formed Justice for Drivers, a coalition of grassroots groups, drivers and unions. “It’s not Wall Street.”
But WNYC brings up a couple of interesting points. First, Uber frames itself as a small business, but it’s actually a $50 million company in the process of trying to go global. (Just last month, there were violent protests in France with taxi drivers protesting the growth of Uber and the lack of regulation governing its partners.) In New York, the company has spent $200,000 on lobbyists.
Moreover, for all the talk about how much the company benefits minorities — both drivers and passengers — WNYC also points out that Uber doesn’t have “a single African-American on its leadership team.”
“Its campaign includes mailers, robocalls to constituents in key city council districts, and a public meeting at Sylvia’s Soul Food, the Harlem icon,” the article continues. “The meeting was organized by David Plouffe, President Obama’s former strategist, who reached out to the Rev. Al Sharpton.”
And when the media outlet was in touch with Uber to discuss what it calls this “race-based appeal,” the company offered as its spokesperson Rev. Jacques Andres de Graff, the assistant pastor at Harlem’s Canaan Baptist Church who said he isn’t “uncomfortable” by the campaign because minorities are big supporters.
On the one hand, if Uber’s customer base is made up of a large minority population, it’s fair and reasonable to include their voices and perspectives. But is the company crossing the line and exploiting those voices, by pushing them to the forefront of the appeal even if, behind the scenes, diversity isn’t on top of its list of priorities?