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Uber in-app message tells riders to speak out against City Council bill

The e-hail company warns against “higher prices and increased wait times,” but the city says Uber is simply fearmongering.

Uber claims a package of City Council bills

Uber claims a package of City Council bills would hurt New Yorkers in the outer boroughs, but the city argues that the legislation would only help congestion and for-hire drivers. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

Uber has launched an in-app message attacking city legislation that would tighten e-hail regulations.

The ride-hailing giant urges riders to speak out against “higher prices and increased wait times” that would come from a package of City Council legislation currently being discussed. The bills would, in part, institute a yearlong ban on issuing new for-hire vehicle licenses.

“Some of the proposals are worthwhile, but others could make Uber more expensive and less reliable throughout the five boroughs — severely impacting New Yorkers who rely on Uber when public transit isn’t an option,” reads the message displayed over a map of New York City. “Tell the City Council not to restrict your access to reliable transportation.”

The alert is punctuated with #DontStrandNYC.

As congestion mounts in the city — and after a spate of taxi driver suicides, which advocates believe stem from financial hardships — both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson have signaled that it’s time for the city to again attempt to further regulate the booming e-hail industry that boasts 80,000 vehicles on city streets.

Ride-hailing growth between 2013 and 2017 added 976 million miles of driving to city streets, accounting for nearly 6 percent of citywide driving according to a recent report from traffic expert Bruce Schaller.

Other bills in the package include a proposal to set a minimum payment for drivers — which some experts argue could play a role in reducing congestion by incentivizing companies to reduce cruising with empty cars.

Uber is most aggressively attacking the proposed cap on licenses, arguing that a ban could harm the outer boroughs where transit service is sparse and encourage drivers to focus on the most profitable areas of Manhattan. The app messages are just one facet of a campaign that includes television and social media ads.

“We believe New Yorkers will join us in supporting living wages for drivers and opposing a cap that will harm outer borough riders who have come to rely on Uber because of the unreliable, or nonexistent subway,” said Uber spokeswoman Danielle Filson in a statement.

The City Council, however, says the company’s message is misleading.

“The Council is proud of this package, which we believe will bring fairness to the industry, reduce congestion and help drivers,” said City Council spokeswoman Jennifer Fermino in a statement. “When riders see the bills, they’ll see we aren’t cutting any existing service and we have created a thoughtful proposal to address some of the major problems in the industry.”

As e-hails proliferate, Schaller has found that the demand has kept pace — but hasn’t done much in terms of reducing car ownership. He and other experts have begun championing policies such as higher trip fees and congestion pricing while also pushing for more efficient modes of transit, such as bus and bike infrastructure.

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