Remember, years ago, when the concept of a ride-share app was dat new new and we all basked in its ingeniousness? Gone were the days of fearing your taxi driver during a late night solo trip! Sayonara to all times your driver “accidentally” left the meter off! Peace to being denied a ride because you weren’t going that far! Ignorance was bliss, but now it’s time to face the facts—Uber is f-cked up, and we probably shouldn’t use it anymore.
Uber has had problems for years, but 2017 was the Year of Scandal for the app. In fact, due to a recent decision by Transport for London (TfL), Uber London wasn’t reissued a license to operate in the British capital when its current license expired on September 30. TfL cited “public safety and security implications”—including Uber’s lack of robust background checks for drivers and the company’s history of failure to report serious criminal offences—as its reasons for concern. In response, Uber’s new (as of August 2017) CEO Dara Khosrowshahi emailed an open letter to everyone in the company, apologizing for the company’s mistakes and citing that, “the truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation.”
And oh, what a bad reputation it is. In an effort to show you the dark side of your Uber addiction, here are all the times the company has stirred controversy and then failed to rectify it.
In late October, three female engineers—one of whom remains employed by the company—launched a lawsuit against Uber, citing the company’s alleged discriminatory practices. In the lawsuit, Ingrid Avendano, Roxana del Toro Lopez and Ana Medina argue that Uber’s employee evaluation system is “not based on valid and reliable performance measures,” and men and white or Asian employees are favoured. Jahan Sagafi of Outten & Golden, the plaintiffs’ legal counsel, said, “These three engineers are seeking to ensure that Uber pays women and people of colour equally for the hard work they’ve done—and will continue to do—to help make Uber successful.”
A recent promotional campaign by UberEats India—meant to “celebrate” Wife Appreciation Day on September 17—implored users to, “order on UberEats and let your wife take a day off from the kitchen.” Ummm…what?!
The promo ran in an email sent to users in the south Indian city of Bengaluru, and—thankfully—the online backlash was swift.
— Baba Manhattani (@BabaGlocal) September 17, 2017
— Iain Marlow (@iainmarlow) September 17, 2017
— ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@PranavDixit) September 17, 2017
Uber tried to backpedal as fast as poss, but honestly, the damage was done.
This was totally inappropriate. We’ve removed it and we apologize.
— Uber Comms (@Uber_Comms) September 17, 2017
In an email circulated to former New York City customers, Uber said, “In expanding so quickly, we failed to prioritize the people that helped get us here. Ultimately, the measure of our success is the satisfaction of our riders, drivers, and employees—and we realize that we have fallen short.” The email—clearly a bid to engage with once-loyal users after a controversial first half of the year—also ambiguously mentioned Sarah Fowler’s reports of workplace sexual harassment: “After a report of inexcusable workplace harassment surfaced earlier this year, our board and senior leadership took immediate action,” it said. “Accountability is not a one time thing.”
Fowler called B.S. upon its release:
So…they can apologize to FORMER RIDERS for the “inexcusable workplace harassment” but not to the employees who suffered the harassment? https://t.co/FRW1Z1NqTF
— Susan J. Fowler (@susanthesquark) June 17, 2017
An Uber driver raped a woman in India, after which she charged the company for negligence and fraud. The courts awarded her $3 million; the perpetrator got a life sentence. Then, it came to light that the company’s executives had obtained, and worse, shared the victim’s confidential medical records. In an email, an Uber spokesperson told Forbes that, “No one should have to go through a horrific experience like this, and we’re truly sorry that she’s had to relive it over the last few weeks.” How is that at all helpful? Answer: it isn’t.
Bloomberg was provided a recording from a dashboard cam in an Uber Black ridden by then-C.E.O. Travis Kalanick. In this recording, Kalanick engages in a heated debate with his driver about Uber Black—a premium service which generally costs more than UberX. When the driver says he has lost income related to reduced Uber Black fares, the former C.E.O. says, “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!” and then exits the car.
Later, Kalanick issued yet another lame-ass apology.
President Trump’s first attempt to implement his immigration ban provoked an unplanned protest at John F. Kennedy airport in New York City, and in a show of solidarity, a union representing taxi drivers refused to pick up passengers from the airport for one hour, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Not only did Uber continue to operate during this strike, but at 7:30 p.m., the company tweeted that it had turned off surge pricing (an automatic function which increases fares when there is more demand than there is supply) in an apparent effort to use the protest as a opportunity to attract business. This prompted the online movement #DeleteUber, which ultimately resulted in the deletion of more than 200,000 accounts.
Matters were made more complicated by the fact that in December 2016, Kalanick joined Trump’s economic advisory council. Days after the scandal broke, Kalanick formally resigned from the council via company-wide memo, in which he lamely attempts to refute the notion that Uber endorsed the discriminatory immigration practices proposed by the Trump administration. In an effort to appease customers, Uber apologized for any “confusion” it may have caused. SIGH.
After exiting her role at the company, former Uber engineer Sarah Fowler penned a stunning blog post in an effort to expose the rampant harassment she says she experienced in the workplace. Fowler’s manager allegedly sexually propositioned her, but when she went to HR, they apparently said that she would be fired if she tried to make another report. Uber launched what Kalanick called an “urgent investigation.” As a result of reviewing 200+ HR claims, more than 20 employees were fired.
Kalanick also tweeted about how appalled he was…
1/ What’s described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired. https://t.co/6q29N7AL6E
— travis kalanick (@travisk) February 20, 2017
But isn’t it hard to believe a dude who says he gets women on demand? It’s true—in a pretty sleezy piece by GQ, in which reporter Mickey Rapkin asks about Kalanick’s “skyrocketing desirability,” the then-CEO is quoted as saying, “yeah, we call that Boob-er.” Barf.
Remember feeling suspicious of those Uber ads that claimed drivers could make up to $90,000 a year? If you’re nodding right now, you were right—the Federal Trade Commission filed a claim that Uber was luring employees with inflated wage statistics. The consequence: Uber had to dedicate $20 million to compensating drivers who were promised wages higher than reality.
After a woman in New York went into labour, her beau and her birthing partner gathered her things and called an Uber to get her to the hospital. When the group stepped up to the car, the woman vomited (as one may do when bringing new human life into this world) and the Uber driver subsequently refused to let her get into the car. The kicker? The driver charged the new parents-to-be $13 for his lost time. Although the couple was refunded, Uber released this weak AF statement: “Denying service to a passenger in labor is unacceptable: it goes against our code of conduct and the standard of service our riders rely on. We extend our deepest apologies to both riders and have taken action to respond to this complaint. We are glad that the rider’s next driver was professional and courteous.” *eye roll*
Sydney’s central business district was on lockdown after a gunman took 17 people hostage in a cafe, and as a safety measure, others in the area were encouraged to leave. As more and more people requested an Uber, surge-pricing kicked in and in some areas, costs were four times the regular fare. Uber attempted to justify the hike.
We are all concerned with events in CBD. Fares have increased to encourage more drivers to come online & pick up passengers in the area.
— Now Uber_Australia (@Uber_Sydney) December 15, 2014
After the consequent public outcry, Uber announced that all rides would be free for the remainder of the day, and anyone who already paid would be refunded.
Uber rides out of the CBD today are free for all riders to help Sydneysiders get home safely. See http://t.co/UIwoom25Bm for more info.
— Now Uber_Australia (@Uber_Sydney) December 15, 2014
Too late, guys!
An unnamed Buzzfeed editor was invited to a dinner at Manhattan’s Waverly Inn, where attendees included actor Ed Norton, publisher Arianna Huffington and Ian Osborne, the former adviser to British PM David Cameron, among others. Important note: No one in attendance said anything about the conversations being off the record. At this dinner, then-senior vice president of Uber Emil Michael suggested that Uber consider employing opposition researchers to find indecent information about the company’s media critics. The “dirt” could then be used to leverage positive media coverage of Uber.
What’s more, Michael zeroed in on the personal details of Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily and a longtime critic of Uber. Later, Michael released a statement which said: “The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner— borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for—do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.” Not only does this Michael dude sound creepy as f-ck, but his “apology” is actually just his attempt to justify his actions. Gross.
Uber’s Lyon, France team released a promotion with another app called “Avions de Chasse” (a colloquial French term which means “hot chick”), and the aim was to pair riders with hot female models as drivers. Surprise, surprise—Uber deleted the promotion soon after Buzzfeed politely inquired WTF they were thinking. The company failed to comment.
Tracking Uber’s missteps is critical because it seems no one else is really holding the multi-billion dollar company accountable for the messed up stuff they do on the reg. While we can’t deny that the app itself is a-freaking-mazing (generally low fares and a speedy ride from A to B, all at the touch of a button = our shit), it might be time to rethink our fave mode of transportation. Meanwhile, as we lie in wait for Lyft to make its way north of the border, we’ll continue documenting every time Uber screws up.
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