NYC's taxi services find themselves smack in the middle of Trump immigration debate

By Lucy Cohen Blatter | January 31, 2017 - 2:59PM 

As more and more companies speak out against Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration, one particular segment of the business sector is getting wrapped up in it all—the taxi business.

Over the weekend, those opposed to the president's executive order banning immigrants and travelers from seven countries including Iraq, Yemen, and the Sudan were encouraging users to #DeleteUber from their phones after it became clear that the taxi company was not taking part in a New York Taxi Workers Alliance protest against Trump's moves. The organization, many of whose members are Muslims and immigrants, had called on all drivers, including those who work with Uber and Lyft, not to pick up passengers from JFK airport on Saturday. At the same time, though, Uber issued a tweet promoting its service. 

The company has since apologized. Those who deleted their accounts got an email saying: "We share your concern that this ban will impact many thousands of innocent people. That’s why Uber is committed to financially compensating drivers affected by the ban, so that they can continue to support their families while they are prevented from returning to the US." But detractors have also pointed to the fact that Uber's CEO, Travis Kalanick, is part of a White House business advisory group. (Editor's note: Kalanick dropped out of the advisory group on Thursday.)

Perhaps seeing an opening, Uber's competitor, Lyft, announced on Saturday that they would be donating $1 million to the ACLU over the next four years, so many die-hard Uber users in the city have switched over to Lyft. (One wrinkle, though: One of Lyft's largest investors is none other than Trump supporter and advisor Carl Icahn, so some protestors say he will benefit from a lift in Lyft ridership, as is Trump advisor Pether Thiel.)

Now, Via, the ride-sharing app we've extolled here before is standing up to Trump's EO, too. On Monday morning, the company's Israeli-born founder, Daniel Ramot, put out a statement, saying:

"We are all one community, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or nationality. Distinguishing between us based solely on faith or citizenship shatters the very foundation on which Via is built," he wrote. "We are deeply concerned about President Trump's executive order on immigration, which runs counter to our fundamental values and directly impacts many in our own community... Via wouldn’t be Via without immigrants. I am an immigrant and our employees have come to the U.S. from 17 different countries. So many of our drivers and riders are immigrants or were born to immigrants. By broadly targeting refugees, as well as those who seek to enter the U.S. from specific countries, the President’s executive order sends a chilling message to us all."

The company also said that they'd offer free legal counseling to all drivers affected and create a fund to support drivers who faced legal expenses related to the ban.

Uber also announced it's also helping drivers who are affected, offering legal support and setting up a $3 million legal defense fund for "immigration and translation services."

Some New Yorkers told us that they're holding off on deleting Uber until they do more research as to whether the company really is agreeing with Trump or just got caught in a PR mix-up.  "It's possible that they just screwed up—I hate to knee-jerk delete and tweet," says Jessica Bernstein, a Manhattanite. "'I'm not fully in favor of Uber's actions, but I'm not ready to fully write them off yet."

Ari Zoldan, CEO of Quantum Media group says he thinks people may be jumping to conclusions about the company too easily. "Just because they didn't strike doesn't mean the company doesn't have a position or opinion on the matter," he says. "Futhermore, it's probably equally important that Uber doesn't take a position for it may alienate or make people feel uncomfortable using the service. More often than not, companies have strict internal policies not to get involved and or take positions on political related matters," he said.

But Michael Ferchak of Brooklyn told us he proudly deleted the app, explaining it this way: "I did it as a way to exert political influence. To be honest, I don't really know much about Uber's affiliation with Trump or whether they initially supported his ban. But a rare opportunity has arisen for average people to make their voices heard clearly and publicly. Today corporate CEOs are even more powerful than our congressmen and senators; 19 of them are on Trump's economics board. By deleting Uber, and posting about it and publicizing it as much as possible, we can have an effect on the company. And if we can have an effect on the company, it will not only influence the CEO (and potentionally, but probably not, Trump). But more importantly, other corporate CEOs will take notice. And that will affect their future reactions on Trump's policies."

"At the very very least, it will cause more companies to donate to activist causes like the ACLU who are in the best position to fight the administration," he added.

For some, it was just a last straw in a company that they've been conflicted about supporting. "If you look into the founders they have been jerks from the moment they gained some success, have said very derogatory things about women, so for me it is the last straw," says Robert London, also of Manhattan.

Sara Ansari, who lives in Midtown, says she's gotten many of her friends to join he in deleting Uber, too. This is the note she sent to the company: "Uber has built its enormous international business on the backs of immigrant labor. Instead of respecting that, instead of using your platform to condemn in the strongest terms possible these bigoted and unconstitutional attacks against Muslims and immigrants, you collaborate with the perpetrator of such bigoted acts. You have a powerful voice, and you are choosing not to use it. I will not do business with you, my husband will not do business with you, and neither will any of our friends and family. My husband spends hundreds of dollars a week through work using Uber, and that's done. We have deleted your service and are using Lyft instead, a company that has done what you should have done: condemned these policies publicly and donated to the ACLU."

Ansari says her last Uber ride was taken while leaving the JFK protest and it was with a Muslim man from Bangladesh. "He said, 'How can he do this? He cannot. America is a free country. American people's cannot allow this.' I told him we would not let him down in his belief in us, and that we would also be boycotting uber. He shrugged and said, "This is good. We all drive for Lyft anyway, so it is not a problem." 


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