Uber CEO Travis Kalanick


Uber has an offer for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio: Let’s talk.

In a letter to de Blasio, Uber NYC general Manager Josh Mohrer suggests a public debate that could help the two sides resolve some of their onoing disputes about the city’s policies towards the richly-valued ride-hailing service.

“When your proposal to cap Uber was introduced, your administration said it was about congestion.  The op-ed you wrote in the New York Daily News this weekend was about everything but congestion,” said Josh Mohrer, Uber’s NYC general manager in a letter to the mayor.

“If you have new concerns, we want to discuss them, face-to-face, and invite you to do so in a live-streamed conversation so all New Yorkers can watch.”

De Blasio and the city council have proposed a freeze on growth for for-hire vehicle companies — including Uber and Lyft. The city is conducting a study about congestion, traffic, and pollution, which it says Uber may be contributing to.

If it were to become a law, the measure could stunt Uber’s growth in New York. This would significantly hurt the company — New York is one of the company’s largest and most mature markets, and the company is generating hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue there.

Under the proposed bill, for-hire vehicle companies that have bases with 500 cars or more —  which includes Uber — would only be able to increase their number of vehicles by 1% every year. For Uber, this would mean adding just 201 new drivers for the next year. In a city where Uber says it’s adding 25,000 new users every week, it’s easy to see how this could hurt the company.

The new bill could come to a vote as soon as this week. It is perhaps not a coincidence that Uber sent out the letter minutes before an unrelated press conference de Blasio hosted. The mayor was then asked about the invitation to debate with Uber. His reply, according to the New York Times’ Matt Flegenheimer: “I don’t debate with private corporations.”

We’ve also reached out to the mayor’s office to ask for an official statement. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

This weekend, de Blasio wrote an op-ed in the New York Daily News about his desire to cap Uber’s growth. He said he was concerned about improving public transit and accessibility, protecting riders and making sure drivers were being paid fairly. The crux of his argument, though, is about preventing traffic congestion in the city — a concern that may be based on flawed data.

Uber, for its part, argues that de Blasio’s attempts to kneecap the company are based on his allegiance to the city’s taxi lobby, which donated to his bid for mayor. In its letter to the mayor, Uber mentioned a bunch of points fron the mayor’s op-ed, addressing accessibility (“UberWAV provides the most reliable accessible ride in New York City”), supporting mass transit (“Uber currently contributes far more to the City budget by paying millions more in black car sales tax than taxis do by paying 50 cents on each ride to the MTA”), and transparency (the company says it would be “happy to discuss” using more of its data in the city, as long as driver and rider privacy is respected).

Wait times

In addition, Uber cites San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who was refused a ride to her Bronx hotel by a taxi driver. One of Uber’s most recent tactics in its fight against de Blasio’s proposed law is arguing that Uber vehicles serve minority neighbourhoods in the outer boroughs in ways that taxis do not.

“Every rider can get a ride within minutes to and from every borough. No Uber rider is refused because of where they want to go or what they look like, a longstanding problem with taxis that still exists today as the Mayor of San Juan would be the first to tell you,” Mohrer said.

Last year, the average wait time for an Uber vehicle in Manhattan was just two minutes and 25 seconds. In New York City’s outer boroughs, it was three minutes and eight seconds. Limiting the number of Uber drivers would invariably increase customer wait times, and could lead to more of Uber’s much-dreaded surge pricing if demand is high.

David Plouffe —  the former Obama campaign manager who works on Uber’s policy and strategy division  —  is reported to be persuading Reverend Al Sharpton to oppose the for-hire vehicle cap. “The reverend, who has a close and complicated relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio, ‘has questions’ about the effects the cap would have on minority communities,”according to Crain’s New York.

Uber also sent a video to its New York City customers last week, urging them to tell Mayor de Blasio that they oppose the proposed legislation, which the company asserts would “strand” underserved minority communities in the city’s outer boroughs. This idea —  of Uber as a service that helps minority communities where taxis would otherwise avoid picking them up — has been repeated by a number of people who oppose the proposed legislation, like Ron Busby, the CEO of the US Black Chambers.

Uber is doubling down on fighting the proposed legislation. The company offered free UberPool rides to its New York City customers to attend a pro-Uber protest at New York’s City Hall last month.

As reported by Business Insider