Uber takes aim at NYC mayor with app feature

In its battle with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Uber attempts to sway customers to its side by launching a feature showing what the city would look like under "de Blasio's Uber."

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read

Uber launched a feature in the New York version of its app asking passengers to denounce Mayor Bill de Blasio's bill that aims to limit the number of Uber cars on the road. Screenshot by Dan Ackerman/CNET

Uber is looking to enlist more foot soldiers in its fight with New York City lawmakers.

The ride-hailing service, which pairs passengers with drivers via a smartphone app, added a new feature to the New York version of its app on Thursday called "de Blasio's Uber" -- taking a dig at the city's mayor. This feature lets users see what the alleged wait time for an Uber car would be if Mayor Bill de Blasio succeeds in limiting the service in the city. It also asks passengers to contact the mayor to complain about his limit proposal.

"Mayor de Blasio's plan to stop Uber will cost 10,000 jobs, hurt underserved areas and make wait times for Uber cars skyrocket," said Uber's chief adviser, David Plouffe. "With this view, New York City riders can see for themselves how much time this political payback to big taxi owners will cost them."

Uber hired Plouffe in August 2014 after he served as the campaign manager and White House adviser to President Barack Obama. This tactic of trying to appeal to the masses is a familiar campaign trick to win people over to one side of a political battle.

Uber, which launched in 2009, is the world's largest ride-hailing service. It operates in more than 250 cities in 57 countries and it's impressed investors with that potential -- Uber is the second-highest venture-backed company in the world, with a valuation of $41.2 billion.

New York is one of the company's biggest markets and, according to The New York Times, it has spent at least $225,000 on lobbying the mayor's office, city council and the Taxi and Limousine Commission since 2014.

This recent skirmish between Uber and the city came to a head after de Blasio proposed a bill last month that would cap the number of Uber cars on the road, while also only allowing for growth of 1 percent per year until 2016. The company has said its current New York City growth rate is roughly 3 percent per month.

In addition to the "de Blasio's Uber" app feature, Uber also ran a television ad in New York this week with testimonials from Uber drivers who said driving for the service has improved their lives. The ad also claimed that de Blasio's agenda is "killing thousands of jobs across the city."

The mayor has said the reason for the bill is to lessen traffic on New York's crowded streets. The city council is expected to vote on the bill next week.

"Now we know where some of that 'surge pricing' goes," said de Blasio's deputy press secretary, Wiley Norvell. "No company's political war chest or tactics entitles it to shake off rules meant to protect the public. Uber has run this playbook in cities all over the world to fight back basic protections for drivers and passengers, and to keep governments from managing the crush of new cars flooding already crowded streets. It doesn't matter how many lobbyists Uber hires or ads it runs. We have a job to do to keep this city safe, keep it moving and look out for the public interest."

Updated at 3:10 p.m. PT with comment from Mayor Bill de Blasio's deputy press secretary, Wiley Norvell