Transportation companies are in the fight of their lives to stop the illegal activities of Uber, the multi-billion-dollar corporation whose growth plan relies on breaking the law, putting untrained and uninsured drivers on the streets, and taking a cut from the fare riders pay. So what is the industry doing to fight this?
Part of the response from the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA) has been to wage the most concerted public information campaign in its nearly 100-year history.
Contracting with the public relations firm Melwood Global, the TLPA launched the “Who’s Driving You?” public safety initiative in 2014. The goal of the campaign is to provide timely, relevant and authoritative information and perspective on the inherent dangers created by Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft. The goal is to educate policy makers and the public through the media about why a responsible regulatory approach to TNCs is vital for public safety.
The campaign’s name was chosen because it applies to so much of what we in the transportation business see as wrong today. Who’s driving that Uber vehicle and has he been fingerprinted? Who’s driving a city councilor’s decision to ignore public safety? Who’s driving the message that more cars on the road somehow magically reduce congestion? Who’s driving the immense funding behind Uber’s war chest?
A central piece for this campaign is the website www.WhosDrivingYou.org, constantly updated with new information, including smartly written blogs to the latest news about TNC dangers. The new website also has a list of criminal incidents reported by the media that involve Uber drivers, from sexual assaults to kidnappings to DUIs. The site features links to all incidents, as well as a running counter of the total number.
The campaign has a robust social media arm to it as well, with daily postings and tweets on Facebook and Twitter. All transportation company representatives are encouraged to follow the campaign on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WhosDrivingYou) and on Twitter at @WhosDrivingYou.
At certain times, the campaign runs specific advertisements on Facebook to highlight key messages such as background checks, insurance, or the shocking and inexcusable rise in violence against women at the hands of Uber drivers.
Members of the “Who’s Driving You?” team constantly monitor media reports from around the world about Uber and Lyft, and are in daily contact with reporters in many cities. Their support is available to any TLPA member by calling the campaign phone number at (202) 822-2093 or by emailing [email protected].
The messages of the campaign center around key themes of safety and background checks — something that anyone in the professional for-hire vehicle business knows are the two greatest concerns of any operation. As needs arise, the campaign also refocuses on additional messages, which have ranged from Uber’s egregious breaches of privacy to its hollow claims of job creation. The campaign staff talks daily and often hourly with TLPA leadership on latest events, messaging opportunities and planning.
It takes a lot of coordination to battle Uber and its Wall Street billions, but the effort has gained attention. The Washington Post called the TLPA “Uber’s primary lobbying foe at the national level” while USA Today highlighted the association’s “vigorous media nationwide campaign” from the “Who’s Driving You?” initiative.
In response to Uber’s missteps and the opposition it faces from associations like TLPA and the National Limousine Association, Uber last year hired David Plouffe, the media strategist behind President Obama’s 2008 election. This year, the company hired Rachel Whetstone, a public relations consultant from the United Kingdom’s conservative party who later ran Google’s media communications in Europe. Her addition signals that Uber has big concerns about Europe.
Meanwhile, Uber works overtime to keep up the appearance of a responsible company despite the frequency of its drivers having their mug shots hit the media in yet another alleged crime. And North American cities are waking up to the notion that Uber, if left unchecked, will run roughshod over their streets, sacrificing safety for profit. From Miami to Toronto, and New York to Houston, Uber no longer delights in the free reign it once had.
Our industry’s concerns are as real as the dangers we see visited upon innocent Uber passengers. Through it all, a strong communications effort has been, and will continue to be, crucial to making our message heard. So in case you haven’t already asked the question, “Who’s Driving You?” when it comes to Uber, the TLPA can help with that answer.