The two largest US ridesharing companies get involved politics following this weekend's immigration ban protest.
Uber and Lyft, the two largest ridesharing rivals in the US, have found themselves in a war for customers and good PR as a result of president Donald Trump's immigration ban.
On Friday, Trump signed an executive order titled "Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," indefinitely suspending the entry of Syrian refugees into the US, in addition to barring entry from seven majority Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia — for 90 days.
Since then, individuals from those countries, who were in transit when the order was signed, arrived at US airports only to find that visas that had been issued by the US to be invalid. Denied entry, they were detained at airports like New York's JFK and not allowed to see or speak to family members who had gone to pick them up.
As news of the detaining spread, protests broke out at airports across the country, with JFK perhaps the most visible. Yesterday afternoon, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance announced a one-hour strike that evening in support of the people detained at JFK. A couple of hours later, Uber announced no surge pricing for rides leaving JFK, a move undermining the cabbie strike.
While Uber denies it was intentionally profiting from the strike, many saw Uber CEO Travis Kalanick's recent joining of Trump's economic advisory council as evidence that he and his company were in support of Trump's immigration ban. Thousands of protest supporters soon responded with a #DeleteUber hashtag and closed their accounts. As the hashtag spread, Kalanick issued a statement saying that he supported workers from all countries — many Uber drivers are from the seven banned countries — and promised to speak to Trump about the ban, but the move was largely seen as a weak attempt to combat the negative response.
The American Civil Liberties Union sent lawyers to file motions on behalf of two men, one an Iraqi who had worked as a translator for the US military, and another Iraqi whose wife's job for a US contractor US contractor had made his family targets of an attempted abduction and car bombing. The ACLU called their detention, without charge or the ability to contact a lawyer unconstitutional and both men were released. Perhaps sensing an opportunity to capitalize on Uber's mistakes, Lyft this morning pledged $1 million to the ACLU.
Late last night, a US District Judge issued a stay on Trump's executive order, allowing those who happened to be in transit when it was signed to enter the US, and all detainees at JFK were released. While the effects of this unprecedented order are still unfolding, it appears that for now ride sharing companies have staked positions at odds with the president.