There are many ride sharing services that provide an alternative to traditional taxi cabs, but none larger than Uber. With backing from big names like Google Ventures, Goldman Sachs and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Uber has expanded globally and asserted its dominance in cities across the United States. They're now worth an estimated $40 billion and still growing. But monumental growth does not come without growing pains.
The same aggressive business and marketing strategies that made Uber a success have also got them into trouble several times this year. From shady business tactics, to neglecting passenger safety, to privacy issues, Uber has gotten almost as much bad publicity in 2014 as General Motors, the undisputed recall champ. That's why we've put together this infographic that shows the company's public relations missteps throughout 2014.
Marketing Stunts Gone Wrong
JUNE: UBER USES GAY MARRIAGE TO GAIN PUBLICITY: Uber is known for capitalizing on current events to gain publicity, such as when Uber delivered kittens so customers could enjoy a 15 minute cuddling session in honor of National Cat Day. That was cute. But during Gay Pride Week in June, Uber offered "weddings on demand", where Uber picked up couples and expedited the paperwork and marriage ceremony in under an hour. Critics felt that Uber's stunt was in bad taste and discounted marriage altogether.
OCTOBER 20th: UBER PARTNERS WITH AVIONS DE CHASSE: In Lyon, France, Uber partnered with a local company called Avion de chasse to provide Uber customers with attractive female drivers. The promotion was deemed sexist and prompted this article from BuzzFeed.
Aggressive and Careless Business Practices
AUGUST: LYFT CLAIMS UBER EMPLOYEES CANCELLED OVER 5,000 RIDES: Back in August, rival ridesharing company Lyft claimed Uber employees ordered and then cancelled over 5,000 rides over the course of a year to disrupt their service. They also claimed Uber recruiters would take short (and unprofitable) Lyft rides to lure drivers into joining Uber. Lyft claims 177 employees, some high ranking, were involved in the effort known internally as Operation SLOG.
NOVEMBER 14TH: UBER'S VP OF BUSINESS SAYS UBER SHOULD INVESTIGATE UBER CRITICS: At a dinner event in mid-November, Uber's VP of Business Emil Michael suggested that Uber should consider hiring researchers to investigate personal lives of journalists who write critically of the company. The remarks were officially "off the record", but as any senior executive should know, there is no such thing, especially when representatives of the media (including a BuzzFeed editor) are there to hear the remarks. Needless to say, the media backlash was severe.
NOVEMBER 18TH: UBER INVESTIGATING NYC EXECUTIVE FOR MISUSE OF "GOD VIEW": Right on the heels of Emil Michael's remarks, Uber announced that it was investigating its top NYC Exec for using "God View" to track a journalist without permission. It's long been suggested that Uber abuses the private information it collects, even touting its God View at company parties. God View, for those of you that don't know, is a program that Uber Executives (although some claim employees had access as well) use to see Uber drivers and passengers in real-time. Uber claims it only accesses data for legitimate business purposes, but multiple accounts suggest otherwise. As we lurch closer to the connected car, data privacy is becoming a bigger issue.
DECEMBER 15TH: UBER'S RATES SURGE DURING HOSTAGE CRISIS IN SYDNEY, AU: Surge pricing has plagued Uber from the very beginning. During times of high demand, Uber increases its rates to incentivize more drivers to accept Uber rides. Although the premise is built in concrete economics, it doesn't make explaining a $200+ Uber charge any easier. The latest surge-pricing PR disaster came during the hostage situation in Sydney, Australia, where citizens fleeing the city were hit with the exorbitant rates. Uber was shamed into apologizing and offered refunds and reduced rates to some users. Uber's automated surge pricing is just another example of how technology can be dangerous.
Passenger Safety Issues
DECEMBER 31ST, 2013: UBER DRIVER KILLS 6 YEAR OLD GIRL AFTER FAILING TO YEILD IN CROSSWALK: On New Years Eve 2013, an Uber driver struck and killed a 6 year old girl named Sophia Liu while walking in a crosswalk with her mother and brother. Uber was quick to deny any liability, due to the fact that the driver was not giving a ride for Uber at that time, and Uber's insurance only covers drivers while giving a ride. This later led to change in Uber's insurance, but couldn't remove the bad taste in the public's mouth. The driver, Syed Muzaffar was charged with vehicular manslaughter in December 2014.
SEPTEMBER: UBER DRIVER ATTACKS PASSENGER WITH A HAMMER: In late September of 2014, Roberto Chicas and his friends ordered a ride from UberX. While some details of the ride are unclear, Chicas woke up in a hospital surrounded by doctors, lucky to be alive. The UberX driver attacked Chicas with a hammer and Chicas sustained a concussion and multiple face fractures that would require facial reconstructive surgery. It's possible that Mr. Chicas could lose eyesight in his left eye, or possibly the eye entirely. Uber claims their drivers are not employees and thus not responsible for their actions. However, Uber claims to run background checks on all of their drivers, and although Patrick Karajah (the driver) had no criminal history, perhaps a face-to-face meeting would have changed Uber's decision to hire him. Maybe Uber needs to go driverless.
DECEMBER 6TH: UBER DRIVER WITH CRIMINAL PAST ALLEGEDLY RAPES PASSENGER NEW DELHI, INDIA: According to reports, a woman in India's capital of New Delhi used the Uber app to secure a ride home. During the trip, the woman fell asleep in the back of the cab and awoke to find herself in an unknown area. The driver then proceeded to assault and rape her inside of the car with the doors locked. Afterwards the driver brought the woman home and threatened her not to speak of the incident. Thankfully, she contacted the police and the driver was found and arrested by New Delhi police. The driver, Shiv Kumar Yadav, already spent time in jail for rape, but Uber's failure to perform a background check allowed him to drive for the service. After the assault, New Delhi banned all ride sharing services in the city, but lifted the ban at the end of December.
Not only does Uber operate in uncharted territory, it also disrupts existing services. That's why it's no wonder that they have run into so many obstacles in 2014. Uber has succeeded at making transportation seem fun and sexy, but the bottom line is that Uber needs to solidify its reputation as safe and reliable in 2015. This is not only for the livelihood of the 4 year old company, but for the safety of its users.
With a value estimation of $40 Billion and a global presence, Uber can no longer make mistakes under the guise of being a small start-up. The question is, will things keep getting worse in 2015. Mojo Motors hasn't been granted access to "God View," so we'll just have to wait and see.
Mojo Motors is a website where shoppers Follow used cars and trucks to get alerts when dealers drop prices, sell cars and bring similar vehicles into inventory.