Uber And Taxi Industry Trade Sex Assault Accusations In Bitter PR War

Uber and the traditional taxi industry have been at each other’s throats since the upstart came onto the scene in 2010, but the feud has escalated to a whole new level with vicious campaigns demonizing each other that feature allegations that drivers have sexually assaulted their passengers.

Who’s Driving You, the anti-Uber initiative founded earlier this year by the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association, is paying to promote a tweet that reads: “A passenger was sexually assaulted by an uberX driver. Listen to this 911 call.” It then links to a YouTube video.

“We are trying to make consumers and leaders aware of the dangers involved in using so-called ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft,” Dave Sutton, a spokesman for Who’s Driving You, said in a phone interview Thursday. “It could be a scary thing. … We certainly have seen that term ‘fear-mongering,’ but I feel like we have tried to be accurate. It’s a very real concern.”

The tweet linked to a 10-minute YouTube documentary produced by the industry. It starts with a Sept. 19 call to 9-1-1 in Orlando, Fla. According to the Tampa Tribune, Orlando police arrested a Uber driver on Sept. 26 for allegedly groping a woman he had picked up.

Uber and its allies have returned the favor in kind. Taxi Facts, their answer to Who’s Driving You, launched last month. It’s “dedicated to using real facts and data to expose #BigTaxi and how it operates,” as its Twitter bio says. Its content, like its counterpart’s, has been rife with reports about unwanted sexual advances by taxi drivers and threats of violence.

On Thursday, for example, the group was pushing out a BuzzFeed listicle about “taxi horror stories.”

“Cities across the country have murderers, sex offenders and other convicted criminals driving passengers,” Taxi Facts says in one of its blog posts about the taxicab industry.

Both groups also collect tweeted complaints against their competitor, like these that Who’s Driving You posted from presumed Uber and Lyft passengers.

Behind the scare tactics, there is a broader public policy debate is over industry regulation and the taxi industry’s dissatisfaction that Uber and its ilk are not subject to the same rules that it is. The established taxi industry has fought the encroachment of the ride sharing startups. In Arlington, Va., for example, Uber has been banned (and then unbanned) from operating. The company in turn has hired David Plouffe, a former top adviser to Barack Obama, in August as a “campaign manager.”

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last month that district attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco had threatened Uber and other ride-share companies with legal action because their claims about the background checks conducted for their drivers were not true.

So those broader issues and the questions of safety are connected in the eyes of the industry, Sutton said.

“We’re not crying foul because of competition. Competition involves having a set of rules, a single set of rules, and following it to the best of your ability and may the best team win,” he said. “They’re providing cheaper service, but they’re able to do it because they’re underinvesting in a couple of key things that protect people.”

Uber asked TPM to submit its questions about Who Driving You’s tactics, the substance of the debate and its retaliation in the form of Taxi Facts in writing. It did not provide answers as of press time.

UPDATE: 11:15 a.m. ET

A spokesperson for Taxi Facts reached out to TPM with comment.

“Threatened by competition for the first time, Big Taxi has waged a national smear campaign against innovation,” Erin Pelton said in an email. “TaxiFacts was launched to set the record straight about Big Taxi’s atrocious record.”

Image credit: Shutterstock.com/Konstantin Sutyagin.

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