On Saturday night, as crowds protested President Donald Trump’s immigration order at John F. Kennedy Airport, Uber turned off its “surge” function for New York City. By Sunday morning, people were tweeting “#DeleteUber” and sharing screenshots of themselves doing so on social media. So why did Uber’s response to the JFK protests disappoint its users? And why did the reaction from Lyft, a lifelong competitor of Uber, provoke the opposite reaction?
To get to the bottom of this, let’s start with surge pricing. If you’ve ever used Uber, you’ll know that Uber prices “surge” — as do that of its competitors — during busy periods. Uber explains it as such on its website: “During times of high demand for rides, fares may increase to make sure those who need a ride can get one. For riders, surge helps ensure that pickup is available quickly and reliably. For driver-partners, surge means higher fares and a steady stream of ride requests.”
Uber has turned off “surge” before — for example, during the hostage crisis in Sydney, Australia, when a “surge” in pricing meant that a trip’s cost quadrupled. (Uber went on to make all rides in the area free.) However, on Saturday night, Uber turned off “surge” just hours after the New York Taxi Workers Alliance announced that there would be no taxi pickup at JFK between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. to protest Donald Trump’s executive order — a large-scale measure that had left immigrants and refugees detained and frightened at the airport.
However, at 7.36 p.m, Uber tweeted: “Surge pricing has been turned off at #JFK Airport. This may result in longer wait times. Please be patient.” Turning off surge pricing means that a ride is cheaper than it would normally be during busy times. This was interpreted as a means of breaking up the strike at the airport, particularly since Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is a member of Trump’s business advisory group.
Later, Uber tweeted:
Last tweet not meant to break strike. Our CEO’s statement opposing travel ban and compensating those impacted: https://t.co/joWvPvux9J
— Uber NYC (@Uber_NYC) January 29, 2017
Kalanick’s statement, which you can read in full here, pledges to protest Uber employees from repercussions of the ban, and to bring up his concerns with President Trump at their first group meeting.
However, the backlash from the “surge” decision Saturday night has been swift.
— matt ◉ lubchansky (@Lubchansky) January 29, 2017
— wikipedia brown (@eveewing) January 29, 2017
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) January 29, 2017
Meanwhile, the actions of Lyft, a top competitor of Uber, left Uber consumers vowing to use Lyft instead. In a statement, here’s what Lyft said.
This, too, provoked a swift response.
— JenAshleyWright (@JenAshleyWright) January 29, 2017
— howard wolfson (@howiewolf) January 29, 2017
— Katerina Dimitratos (@KDimitratos) January 29, 2017
More protests are expected to continue into Sunday.