“Anyone else tired of all the multiple robocalls from Uber?” Asked Ann Of Orange on June 22nd’s “Open Thread Wednesday” on the Brooklyn Heights Blog
“Very tired. (And I’ve long thought that Uber was a scheme.),” answered Shiny New Handle. This was one of several repliers that admitted they were irked by the calls.
Daily calls urged individuals to put pressure on their City Council member to champion Uber’s cause. Most of these robocalls were voiced by a rather whiny Molly whose point was coated in the entitlement of first-world problems. Social media became an outlet to vent aggravation about these Molly calls.
The squeaky wheel tactics of the Uber PR machine could be perceived to have made inroads with City Hall. On the afternoon of July 22nd, the day before it was to be voted on in the City Council, the call was muffled for a cap on Uber and its like’s growth that would have been implemented while the City completed a 4-month study of the effect of for-hire vehicle enterprises on traffic and the environment.
On closer look, it was reported that the agreement to drop the cap came about because Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito organized a powwow with Uber, City Council staff, and de Blasio administration officials. The consensus of this meeting resulted in the withdrawal of the cap. It also had Uber consent to: maintaining a stabilized growth for the four months during the traffic study, sharing more of their data with the City, and examining their potential to grant some form of monetary support toward the MTA.
In previous days the call for a cap had been made loud and clear. Mayor de Blasio addressed the impetus for the study in a Daily News Op-Ed published on July 18th: “More than 2,000 new for-hire vehicles are being added to our streets every month, overwhelming the most congested parts of Manhattan. For perspective, that means we’re facing the addition of over 25,000 cars to our streets over the next year — the rough equivalent of two times the total number of yellow taxis in all of New York City.” Further in, he listed the principles behind the cap, first of which was to protect workers, “There’s a point at which more and more drivers will find themselves fighting over the same group of riders — something we see already with 72% of pick-ups made by high-growth companies like Uber taking place in the heavily congested Manhattan core. While we see real benefits to drivers able to supplement their income and work with greater flexibility, we still need basic standards that ensure people who work hard in this sector can earn a decent living.”
The presently stalled legislation for the cap would limit the number of black and livery cars permitted to pick up riders. Those ventures with 500 cars or more would be allowed a 1% yearly increase to the amount of vehicles they have in operation. City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez (Upper Manhattan) and City Council Member Stephen Levin (Brooklyn) were to introduce the bill for a vote.
Prior to the City Council’s decision not to pursue the cap, Councilman Rodriguez commented that the bill had the necessary votes for support. However, contrary murmurs were also being heard from chief democrats in local government. A day before the City Comptroller Scott Stringer mentioned he opposed the cap. Then Govenor Cuomo, in a radio interview the morning of July 22nd, stated, “I don’t think government should be in the business of trying to restrict job growth,”
One aspect of this debate had a more united front amongst the populace. No matter which side of the issue they sided with, citizens voiced their annoyance at the uber force of Uber’s public relations campaign. Uber spread their view via a barrage of TV ads, celebrity tweets, emails, and the aforementioned robocalls.
According to a report in the New York Observer Uber has spent more than $3.2 million on these ads.
This is not the first time Uber had to rise to a challenge such as this and fought back in this way. In March 2014, Seattle limited the amount of cars Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) could put on the road only to have their Mayor and City Council legalize ride-hailing apps without caps four months later.
Capping political ad based robocalls isn’t in the cards. Political speech has been established as different from that which sells a product or service. This is according to the Federal Trade Commission, which jointly oversees federal telemarketing laws with the FCC, and this is why these calls are allowed on landlines that are on the Do Not Call list. However, the cap on black and livery car companies’ growth is still a possibility in NYC. Time and the results of the study will tell what the future holds for this issue.