August 13, 2018
NYC Delivers the News About Uber Limits
In any leadership position, any time you make a decision that will limit or otherwise restrict something you know your customers like and enjoy, you have to craft a message that explains the decision in a way they are ready to hear. NYC is trying to do exactly that while pitching a plan to cap the number of vehicles allowed to drive for Uber and other rideshare companies in the city.
If you thought that discussion might raise the hackles of a fair number of New Yorkers, you are correct. Sure, there are people cheering the decision, including those who have to drive in the traffic and cab company owners; but for many others, both riders and drivers, this move would be very frustrating and financially difficult. So, NYC officials needed to find a way to make the message more palatable to those who would not want to abide it.
The first part of that campaign to address disgruntled Uber fans was two-pronged: a discussion of “mounting concerns” related to increased congestion, and systemic “low wages” earned by drivers.
If the city wants to limit Uber and make people happy about the decision, it makes sense to connect the growth of Uber and competitive companies to the increase in traffic. No one likes traffic, and if it feels worse than it used to be, there must be a cause. Whether the numbers bear this out or not, proponents of the plan can show the increase in Uber drivers and the increase in traffic and make the correlation. Whether or not this accusation sticks depends on a great many factors, but chief among them is how well the message is packaged and communicated.
Coming after Uber for “low wages” is an argument crafted for a very specific demographic, a demo that just so happens to be a big percentage of Uber’s target market. The “wages are too low” argument is one that Uber and other similar companies have been facing since the concept’s inception. It’s been raised by politicians, cab companies, foes of the “gig economy” and fair wage groups.
Many members of the latter group are also Millennials, a group that happens to, in general, hate the low wages of the “gig economy” but also love the convenience of Uber or Lyft. For these people, the tactic of tying Uber directly to lower wages at least gets them thinking about the price of that convenience. From a tactical messaging standpoint, it’s a well-placed seed of doubt.
So, what we have here is a fair beginning, but this is a message that will be challenged. Uber, as you might imagine, has come out swinging:
“The City Council’s Uber cap will leave New Yorkers stranded while doing nothing to prevent congestion, fix the subways and help struggling taxi medallion owners… The Council’s cap will hurt riders outside Manhattan who have come to rely on Uber because their communities have long been ignored by yellow taxis and do not have reliable access to public transit.”
This counter-argument hits a lot of interesting points. First, it directly challenges the idea that Uber is responsible for growing traffic congestion. Next, it asserts that a great many people have come to “rely” on Uber “because” of inadequate service provided by cab companies.
From a messaging standpoint, the battle lines are drawn. This will be interesting to watch play out.