Oops, they did it again.
Another PR disaster has emerged for Uber after their CEO Travis Kalanick was caught on camera arguing with one of the company’s drivers.
Bloomburg posted the video on Tuesday, which showed driver Fawzi Kamel dropping Kalanick off at his destination before calmly asking him questions about why prices – and payment – had gone down for drivers when, he felt, they didn’t need to. Kalanick, who is worth an estimated £6bn, eventually appeared to lose his temper, dismissively saying "Some people don't like to take responsibility... They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!"
In a staff memo, Kalanick apologised for his behaviour, saying: "By now I'm sure you've seen the video where I treated an Uber driver disrespectfully, To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement. My job as your leader is to lead… and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away.
"It's clear this video is a reflection of me – and the criticism we've received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I've been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it. I want to profoundly apologise to Fawzi, as well as the driver and rider community, and to the Uber team."
The problem is, we’ve heard this all before.
Since its inception, and particularly in the last twelve months, the company has endured a host of criticisms and controversies.
In September last year, the company once again came under fire for activating its surge feature after a bomb exploded in New York, injuring 29 people, despite previously having agreed to limit the feature in certain circumstances following criticism that it was cashing in on weather events such as storms and hurricanes in a form of ‘price gouging’.
Despite the company apologising, Kalanick has consistently defended the policy elsewhere, claiming that the price increase encourages more drivers to head out on the road, thus increasing the supply of cars.
Then in December, details emerged of alleged lack of security at Uber which allowed employees to track customers, including ex-girlfriends or spouses. This followed reports that the Uber app continues to collect information on customers’ movements, even after they finish their ride. Even better, the man who was whistleblowing, Ward Spangenberg, had been fired by the company for raising his concerns. According to Spangenberg: “The only information, truthfully, that I ever felt was safe inside of Uber is your credit card information. Because it’s not stored by Uber.”
Fast-forward to January, and possibly their most high-profile misstep came in the wake of the huge airport protests in the US following Donald Trump’s unexpected implementation of his Muslim ban. As other taxi organisations showed support for those affected by avoiding the airports, Uber carried on as normal – yet again their surge pricing initially kicked in, before eventually being turned off, but drivers continued to operate.
Sure enough, #DeleteUber began to trend, with people believing that their vested interest in Trump’s administration (Uber’s CEO is on Trump’s economic advisory board along with Disney’s CEO and Elon Musk) meant they were operating to break up the protests. Kalanick defended his company in the following Facebook post:
Next up, Uber was forced to investigate ‘abhorrent’ claims of sexism in the company, following a blog post written by its former engineer Susan Fowler, detailing a host of sexist behaviours that had taken place while she had worked there, and even said that she had been threatened with a poor performance review for reporting the unwanted sexual advances of her manager.
She also claimed that the company’s workforce diversity – which Uber does not release details on – had suffered as a result, saying that it had dropped from a 25% female workforce down to just 6%.
She wrote, "Women were transferring out of the organisation, and those who couldn't transfer were quitting or preparing to quit."
Following the accusations, Uber fired a senior executive for failing to disclose a sexual harrassment allegation. Predictably, Kalanick issued a statement saying the allegations were "abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in".
So why do we keep using, and giving money to, a company that regularly, and consistently, seems to indulge in this sort of behaviour?
Because it’s cheap. And you’re weak and pathetic.
If you believe in pure free market economics, then you cannot argue with Uber’s basic business model. But, equally, even free market economics operates within a social environment – with companies normally expected to abide by an unspoken social contract to provide services even at times when perhaps it may not be immediately financially beneficial to them – and Uber continues to barely pay lip service to it.
It’s hardly the first to do it – Stagecoach employed similar tactics of undercutting rivals, forcing them out of business, then raising their prices, in the early 2000s in the UK.
It would be hugely interesting to know how many people who proudly tweeted #DeleteUber quietly reinstalled the app soon after the furore had died down – something The Daily Mash cuttingly mused on; hey, we all have principles, as long as they don’t cost us too much.
The problem is that Uber is, without doubt, a brilliant product for customers. It’s cheap, it’s used 21st Century technology in an area of the market that desperately needed it, in order to make it more efficient and more informative to the customer. As driver Fawzi Kamel perceptively pointed out, they are in pole position; they have won.
But did they have to do it in such an unlikeable manner? Is giving their behaviour your tacit approval by using them really worth saving £3 on that journey? At what point do people actually need to make a genuine stand and boycott the company? Don’t you have an obligation to move to another company that uses this technology, but uses it responsibly?
That’s your decision to make.