Uber is pulling no punches in its battle with New York City regulators over a proposed law that could severely limit Uber’s growth in the city.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and the city council have proposed a freeze on growth for for-hire vehicle companies — including Uber. The city is conducting a study about congestion, traffic, and pollution.
If it were to become a law, the measure could stunt Uber’s growth in New York, one of the company’s largest and most mature markets.
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% annually.
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.
Last year, the average wait time for an Uber vehicle in Manhattan was just 2 minutes and 25 seconds. In New York’s outer boroughs, it was 3 minutes and 8 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.
To fight NYC regulators, Uber is pulling out all the stops.
Last week, the company introduced a “de Blasio” feature in its app. Where you might normally open the app and select the UberX or Uber Black options, Uber added a function that let users see how long they’d be waiting for an Uber vehicle if the proposed legislation goes into effect.
In addition, 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 this 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.
The company has also been sending out mailers to the constituents of NYC City Council members who support the proposed bill.
The one exception: Bronx councilman Andy King, the only black official who had sponsored the bill, was not included in the barrage of mailers. King tells Crain’s New York he’s going to request that he be removed from sponsorship of the bill when he’s back from vacation.
Proponents of the bill say it’s an effort to cut down on congestion and traffic in New York, according to the New York Post. In the past four years since Uber started operating in New York, 25,000 black cars have been introduced to New York’s streets. Today, New York is one of Uber’s biggest markets, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually. There are more Uber vehicles than taxis on New York City’s streets.
Uber is doubling down on fighting the proposed legislation. The company offered free UberPool rides to its New York customers to attend a pro-Uber protest at New York’s City Hall last month.
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