PR minefield: Uber, taxi wars, and brand standards

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OK, so it’s not exactly new-news that the world’s biggest/most divisive ride share company and app has been having a pretty tough time of things lately. But nevertheless, events in Manchester yesterday have brought the issue back to the surface for those in the North West.

Just weeks after Uber lost its license to operate in London, much to the delight of black cab drivers who have been the worst impacted by the arrival of the (often) cheaper hailable-alternative, cabbies in our home city took to the streets, bringing traffic to a stand still, in a bid to protest what they see as an unfair situation up here. Only this time it’s not Uber that seems to be the problem.

Instead the dismay has been caused by an apparent 30-40% loss in revenue for drivers with Manchester licenses, resulting from rivals arriving from other areas and operating within the city limits. Nearby councils are thought to be faster when it comes handing out the requisite paperwork and plates, but cars licensed elsewhere are not supposed to operate within Manchester itself.

What does this have to do with PR? Let’s look at the following points…

Bringing the industry into disrepute

Uber has done plenty to discredit the business of selling rides to the public. The revocation of the London license was said  to have taken place, in part, because there weren’t enough checks being done on the drivers working, on a freelance basis, for Uber. The problem being Uber has said those checks are not actually its responsibility, but rather the local authority, but this has not been clarified from the council’s end.

Secondly, Uber is part of the ‘gig economy’, which is tantamount to a zero hours contract. Drivers can work as much as they want, but if the work isn’t there nobody gets paid. With more and more attention being paid to this far-reaching sector within the context of workers rights, the name Uber has become associated with poor conditions for those operating under the umbrella.

Finally, the idea that Uber is not fit to operate in London, but can continue to run its business in other major UK cities, for example Manchester, doesn’t do much for the notion that there are tangible, universal standards in place to protect customers.

‘Foreign drivers’

As for the Manchester situation, clearly the details are different, but it comes down to one thing- setting a real standard. How is it that people can receive licenses in one area, but focus their efforts on custom somewhere else, without being hauled up and reprimanded? It begs the question of who is in charge, and how can this sector can be regulated properly?

Passengers are always right 

Well, not necessarily- particularly on a lubricated Saturday night, but you get the point. What all of these arguments are failing to show is a clear focus on the customer. Uber offers a good deal for most people, if you avoid the notorious surge pricing hours. The majority of the time, Uber is much cheaper than a black cab, something that matters a great deal to passengers. Taking the service away is a loss for those customers.

But safety also matters, though, and this feels less and less guaranteed in the current climate what with rhetoric surrounding checks on drivers. Especially if there are drivers in a city that shouldn’t actually be there in the first place.

Representation is needed

This brings to mind our MD Rick Guttridge’s recent opinion piece, which was featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, yesterday. Speaking of the Bell Pottinger PR crisis, the crux was the reaction from the PRCA- a unified response, direct to the media, tackling criticism of the public relations industry as a whole, helping reassure people that there is an authoritative body in charge of agency standards.

Surely a similar organisation would benefit the taxi and black cab industries, which have often been painted in a negative light? After all, no matter what the brand or sector is, there’s no room for complacency when it comes to being open, honest, and direct to the public when major issues arise. Otherwise the alternative is widespread rumour and confusion.