The ride-sharing company Lyft wasted little time responding to Donald Trump’s executive order that temporarily bans refugees and other citizens from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the U.S.
In a blog post over the weekend, the company assailed the executive order as “antithetical to both Lyft’s and our nation’s core values” and promised that it would donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over the next four years.
Meanwhile, Uber’s CEO and co-founder, Travis Kalanick, sent an email to employees promising to find a way to support Uber drivers “pro bono” over the next three months in the event they are stuck overseas or unable to return to the U.S. The company also promised to provide 24/7 legal assistance and a $3 million fund to assist drivers with translation and immigration services.
Both companies, depending on one’s point of view, are doing what they can to confront a travel ban that’s on shaky legal standing, is discriminatory, singles out seven countries with no clear logic and, to some, is a ruse to distract citizens from even more destructive policies.
Nevertheless people have been hurt by the executive order, including a 5-year-old boy who was detained at Washington Dulles International Airport. And both ridesharing services are arguably stepping up to fight this unjust and illogical ban.
The problem is that, while Uber was advertising its services, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and its 19,000-strong membership pledged to refuse to pick up any passengers at the airport for an hour in order to protest the ban. They asked Uber and Lyft to join in the strike.
Lyft stayed out of the fray and announced its ACLU donation. But while the taxi union urged the public to resist the Trump administration’s travel ban, Uber’s NYC office announced that it was suspending the company’s oft-controversial surge pricing.
A few hours later, Uber denied it was trying to break the strike, and posted a link to Kalanick’s email outlining his opposition to the travel ban.
But unfortunately for Uber, the outrage on social media was already in full force, with #DeleteUber trending on Twitter.
And with Kalanick also on one of Trump’s advisory councils (along with Elon Musk and PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi), it became even easier for Uber customers to drop the service. Tweets like this one were commonplace:
Kalanick made the valid point that any company has to work with politicians and leaders of all political stripes worldwide. He also hinted that he will bring up the travel ban at the council’s first meeting this week at the White House. In addition, Kalanick also signed a letter with other technology leaders that oppose this immigration ban.
The damage to Uber’s already fragile reputation, however, will be hard to undo. “Working with Trump is a business minefield,” Brian Solomon of Forbes declared on Monday. He went on to warn companies that trying to be on both sides is fraught with peril — an assertion that surely holds true in this case.
Uber’s clumsy tweet on Saturday did the ride-sharing giant no favors and further sullied its reputation as a corporate bully and one eager to make a quick buck at the expense of integrity. But trying to have it both ways with a man who appears to make decisions based on his personal financial interests will cause Uber to lose even more trust with a fickle customer base who are quick to delete apps and change loyalties at a moment’s notice.
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