Uber in damage control after NYC controversy about its reaction to Trump travel bans

Uber Canada president Michael van Hemmen was forced to blast out urgent explanatory messages to Canadian municipal officials yesterday as his firm encountered a firestorm of social media protest over Uber’s response to Donald Trump’s travel bans on citizens from seven Muslim countries.

When taxi drivers at JFK Airport in New York City went on strike in support of protestors against the ban, Uber stopped “surge pricing” of its fares, apparently to flood the airport with cars and break the strike.

Not so, says van Hemmen. His first message advised that Uber disagrees with Trump’s, although Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is on the president’s economic advisory committee. Uber was creating a legal fund to help impacted drivers get back into the United States, he wrote, and Kalanick was opposed to the “unjust” policy.

But New York consumers weren’t buying. His second, stressed-out e-mail had an even more urgent tone, perhaps because a social media boycott campaign with the hashtage #deleteuber gave rival rideshare service Lyft its best day ever.

“We are horrified that people got the impression on social media that we attempted to take advantage of the job action that was taking place in opposition to President Trump’s immigration actions,” van Hemmen wrote. The “surge” was ended, he explained, so travellers could enjoy regular fares during this difficult period.

It’s a cautionary tale for business leaders who think working with Trump will win consumer support.