Along with hailing a car, Uber riders in New York City can now summon a vision of a dystopian future where a car takes 25 minutes to show up. The new “feature” appears as a button labeled “DE BLASIO” at the bottom of the screen, along with ones for black cars and food delivery. The option, named after Mayor Bill de Blasio, doesn't bring a car to your door. Instead, it offers such ominous messages as “NO CARS-SEE WHY” and “SEE WHAT HAPPENS.”
It's Uber Technology's latest salvo in its fight with the New York City taxi cab industry. The company has also started running television advertisements against de Blasio. Uber is protesting a bill that would limit the company from expanding the number of cars on its system in New York City by more than 1 percent of its current size. The bill may go for a vote as early as next week.
Uber and other on-demand tech companies, such as Airbnb, are facing pressure from regulators around the world. Some of the companies, including Uber, have routinely used their apps and e-mail lists to solicit support from loyal users. For example, in Broward County, Fla., where Uber plans to discontinue service in response to a new rule going into effect July 31, the company has a page urging residents to write to the county commission and displays a message to customers who try to book rides in the area that reads, “Officials have adopted rules that make it impossible for Uber to continue operating.” Using a similar strategy, Airbnb helped bring hosts to a protest outside San Francisco City Hall ahead of new regulations there.
It's not just a matter of bringing supporters to their causes. Uber knows when to keep them away, too. In China, Uber sent messages to drivers saying they should stay away from a confrontation with local authorities in Hangzhou, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Uber also plays the traditional kind of politics. With support from David Plouffe, a former strategist for President Barack Obama, Uber has built up a significant lobbying organization in Washington, with 250 lobbyists and 29 lobbying firms registered in state capitals around the U.S. “Mayor de Blasio’s plan to stop Uber will cost 10,000 jobs, hurt underserved areas and make wait times for Uber cars skyrocket. With this view, New York City riders can see for themselves how much time this political payback to big taxi owners will cost them,” Plouffe, an Uber director, said in a statement.
This isn't the first time the mayor has gone after the company. In May, he backed a plan to require Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing services to get city approval for changes to the user interface on smartphone apps. Uber says that every week, more than 25,000 New Yorkers try out Uber for the first time.