Capital New York Taxi drivers and officials rally against Uber ads by Kelly Weill
A coalition of taxi drivers and city officials is hitting back at Uber in response to its latest ad blitz.
The ride-hail app rolled out a new ad campaign last week, attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio and other members of city government who support a bill that would cap Uber growth for up to one year while the city conducts a traffic congestion study and figures out how best to regulate taxi apps. Uber’s ads, which appear online (including on Capital), on television and in targeted mailers, boast about the company’s job creation record, and accuse the mayor of doing the bidding of his supporters in the taxi industry.
The ads, the taxi drivers said during a Monday press conference outside City Hall, are misrepresentative.
“We are here to say that this fight, it is not a turf war, it is not about contributions,” Bhairavi Desai, founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance said at the press conference. “It is about the ability of tens of thousands of New York City drivers to sustain themselves with a living under the impossible levels of congestion and competition.”
Drivers’ pay is a frequent refrain in the ongoing debate between Uber and its opponents, with both sides accusing the other of exploitation.
In an open letter to de Blasio on Monday, Josh Mohrer, Uber’s general manager for New York City, claimed that the majority of UberX drivers work “34 hours or less per week,” while taxi drivers “need to work a full 12 hour shift to make a living.”
Taxi interests took issue with these claims, pointing to Uber’s insistence on classifying drivers as independent contractors, ineligible for benefits.
“Uber has made this a supplemental income only,” Desai said. "Well what happens when tens of thousands depend on this as the only primary income? By trying to turn it into supplemental, they are digging people into deeper and deeper poverty.”
Supporters of the proposed for-hire vehicle cap compared Uber’s politics to those of other companies accused of employee exploitation.
“When I met with Uber for the first time, I thought I had a good corporation,” City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez said. “I never thought I had a Walmart in front of me.”
According to Rodriguez, Uber officials lie about the 20 percent commissions they take from drivers.
“We know, from talking to real drivers, that Uber actually takes more than 32 percent,” he said.
(Uber representatives have vigorously disputed the claim, saying that Rodriguez's calculations are wrong.)
Rodriguez was joined at the podium by fellow councilmembers Helen Rosenthal and Costa Constantinides.
But the City Council is far from a consensus on a for-hire vehicle cap.
Councilmember Ben Kallos announced his opposition to the cap bill last week. Councilmembers Annabel Palma, Antonio Reynoso, and Robert Cornegy have previously spoken more supportively of Uber, prompting the company to send thank you mailers to residents in the councilmembers’ districts.
Even some councilmembers in support of the bill argue that its impact on for-hire vehicle companies will be minimal. During an unrelated press conference on Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the proposed legislation should be categorized as a “pause” in growth, rather than a cap. The legislation would not affect currently employed drivers, she said.
During the press conference outside City Hall, Councilmember Rosenthal took a similar stance.
“We’re taking all cars off the streets, right? That’s what it says on the Uber app under the de Blasio tab,” Rosenthal joked, referencing a new feature on the Uber app that allows riders to press a ‘de Blasio’ button, which removes all cars from the map. “That’s so far away from being true, it’s actually the opposite. Not only will the Uber cars remain, they will get another estimated 3,100 more cars.”
“Next year we’ll be back, the sky will have not fallen, capitalism will not be over, and we will make a thoughtful solution at that time when we see the results of that study,” Rosenthal added.