Tech & Science

In Fight to Keep Service Alive in NYC, Uber Targets De Blasio Directly in App

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This update to the Uber app targets Mayor Bill de Blasio. Uber App

Update | Uber users in New York City will now have the option to hail an UberX, UberPOOL, UberT or... de Blasio? The feature is the app's most recent tactic at combating New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's stance on the e-hailing app. 

The mayor and the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) have been in a long battle with Uber. The fight has been fought in tense city council meetings and with an army of lobbyists, as the ride-sharing company takes on yellow cabs and the city's certified taxi medallion industry. The battle came to a head over the past several weeks, as the city council discussed legislation on the impact of additional for-hire vehicles on the city.

A study by New York City of for-hire vehicles—like Uber's cars—found that since 2011, over 23,000 vehicles had been added to the market. This study said the added cars lead to "impacts like congestion and decreased air quality of whose degree is unknown." As a result, NYC Council Transportation Committee Chairman Ydanis Rodriguez introduced legislation calling for the TLC to determine the impact of the industry on traffic, air quality, noise and public health.

A second piece of legislation, introduced by Rodriguez and another council member, called to "temporarily limit new vehicle licenses to a rate of growth within historic norms." The council members explained it as such: 

According to the legislation bases can add new licenses at a rate based on their size as of June 15th, 2015:

-Bases with 2-19 vehicles can increase by a maximum of 15% of cars previously affiliated (maximum increase of 3 cars to a base with 19 vehicles)

-Bases with 20-499 vehicles can increase by a maximum of 5% of cars previously affiliated (maximum increase of 25 cars to a base with 499 vehicles)

-Bases larger than 500 vehicles can increase by a maximum of 1% of cars previously affiliated. (maximum increase of 260 cars to a base with 26,000 vehicles)

By capping the market, Rodriguez argues the first fold of the legislation will be "truly informative" and provide "real results" as to the impact of these vehicles have in New York. In addition to studies, the council hopes to do on air quality, noise and congestion, a study by the Department of Transportation found that there has been a 9 percent decrease in traffic speeds from 9.25 mph as an average to just 8.5 in recent years. 

"With unprecedented growth in the for-hire sector, now more than ever, our city must evaluate what are the real negative impacts on our residents. Manhattan is already considered the county with the third highest risk of cancer caused by airborne chemicals," Rodriguez said in a statement in late June, when this legislation was proposed.

While authorities argue that the legislation and attempting to reverse the impact of additional vehicles is necessary, Uber believes this will render its app unusable. When the "de Blasio" feature is selected in the app, not a single car appears on the road. The app prompts the Uber user to "Take action," reading: "This is what Uber will look like in NYC if Mayor de Blasio's Uber cap bill passes. Email the Mayor and City Council. Say 'No' to de Blasio's Uber!" A large blue button urges users to "Email now." 

uber 1 The Uber app does not show any cars on the road under "de Blasio's Uber." Uber

If an Uber user chooses "Email now," the app goes to a stand-alone website. "Mayor de Blasio and members of the City Council are supporting a bill that would cap Uber in New York City. This means that wait times for Uber rides would double or even triple, and more than 10,000 New Yorkers would lose job opportunities overnight," the website reads, calling the legislation "bad for riders, drivers and New York City." 

In addition to changing its app, Uber has also run a television commercial, in which Uber drivers argue that the legislation could take away their jobs and earning capacity. 

"De Blasio's Uber" is a play on words, alluding to the long-running joke of "de Blasio's New York," in which New Yorkers joke about the mayor. The most notable of these jokes are about de Blasio's eating a slice of pizza with a fork, in a city where folding is the norm, which brought about the wrath of New Yorkers who wondered how their city would fare in "de Blasio's New York." 

"Now we know where some of that ‘surge pricing’ goes. No company’s political war chest or tactics entitles it to shake off rules meant to protect the public. Uber has run this playbook in cities all over the world to fight back basic protections for drivers and passengers, and to keep governments from managing the crush of new cars flooding already crowded streets. It doesn’t matter how many lobbyists Uber hires or ads it runs. We have a job to do to keep this city safe, keep it moving and look out for the public interest," Wiley Norvell, de Blasio's deputy press secretary, told Newsweek