Pando

Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar unite in information warfare against "Big Taxi" with new TaxiFacts website

By Michael Carney , written on September 16, 2014

From The News Desk

Uber, Lyft, and, to a lesser extent, Sidecar are bitter rivals who have proven willing to do anything in their power to discredit or poach riders and drivers from one another in pursuit of dominance in the future of transportation market. But, it seems the upstart disruptors are willing to put this hatred aside for the greater good of combatting their shared rivals: “Big Taxi” (the taxi and limousine industry).

Uber, along with the Internet Association (of which both Uber and Lyft are members), CALinnovates (where ride-sharing also-ran Sidecar is a board member), and advocacy groups TechFreedom, the Center for Traffic Safety and Technology, Center for Traffic Safety and Technology, Transportation Safety Coalition, Heartland Technology Alliance, and Texans for Economic Progress have launched a joint campaign called “TaxiFacts” aimed at educating consumers and regulators on the monopolistic and anti-innovative tactics of “Big Taxi.” (Lyft and Sidecar are not listed as direct contributors to TaxiFacts.)

The TaxiFacts website reads,

The taxi industry is a monopoly, controlled by a few powerful insiders who will do whatever it takes to protect their vast profits. Now, threatened by innovation and competition for the first time, “Big Taxi” is spending millions on political campaigns to protect its turf. TaxiFacts.com is dedicated to using real facts and data to expose Big Taxi and how it operates.
It later explains the involvement of TaxiFacts’ various backers:
We are a concerned group, fed up with the false information propagated by Big Taxi monopolies. Instead of innovating to improve their services, Big Taxi wants government and politicians to protect their profits and their monopolies – even though taxis are unreliable and unsafe for riders and unfair to drivers. TaxiFacts.com is committed to providing sourced data to set the record straight about how Big Taxi operates. In an era of scare tactics and corporate intimidation, we believe the public deserves to know the truth about Big Taxi.
At the heart of the website is a blog of taxi horror stories with headlines like, “Criminal Cabbies: Do You Know Who’s Picking You Up?,” “The American Dream Turned Nightmare: Immigrant Taxi Drivers Exploited By Big Taxi,” and “Chicago Taxi Boss is fined $9M for ripping off nearly 2000 cab drivers and putting unsafe, illegal cars on the road.

TaxiFacts also also includes an FAQ dedicated to abusive of taxi industry practices, a “#HAILFAIL” section which aggregates tweets from around the country complaining of poor taxi service, and an “In the News” section that pulls inflammatory headlines from around the taxi industry. In addition to appearing on the TaxiFacts.com website, all this information is shared through the @TaxiFacts Twitter handle as well.

In many ways, the battle between ride-sharing and the taxi industry has begun to look like the dirtiest of political fights. Appropriately, this website and the associated media campaign is the kind of classic mudslinging and information marketing favored by political candidates. As an aside, “Big Taxi” is a masterful phrase that conjures up the worst of large corporate malfeasance associated with the more commonly referred to Big Tobacco, Big Oil, and Big Pharma.

None of this should come as any surprise given Uber’s recent hiring of former Obama advisor and campaign strategist David Plouffe to lead its PR and communications efforts – although it’s unclear if Plouffe is involved in this initiative, given he’s less than one month into the job. The only surprising thing is how closely associated Uber is with the campaign, being listed as a group  member, while competitors Lyft and Sidecar support TaxiFacts more silently via other member organizations.

While the volume is certainly turned up to 11 on TaxiFacts, the underlying theme that many taxis are filthy, technology adverse, deliver poor service, and are owned and operated by seemingly corrupt individuals is nothing new. It’s the very reason so many consumers have flocked to the utopian-by-comparison ride-sharing platforms when they come to town. But the fact that Uber, and by association Lyft and Sidecar, are choosing to engage in this information war shows that the companies are not confident enough in winning this battle based on the strength of their services alone. And with regulators looking to legislate these new services out of existence in many locations (domestically and abroad), they’re wise not to.

Big Taxi was first to the online mudslinging game with the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s launch of Whosdrivingyou.org, a website dedicated to “exposing the facts about so-called  'ridesharing' services UberX, Lyft and Sidecar.” The site features its own heavily slanted blog, FAQ, and news roundup sections, and prominently invites visiting riders and drivers to “file an incident report” around bad experiences with ride-sharing services. WhosDrivingYou promises, “we'll pass your story on to local media outlets for you.”

TaxiFacts, like WhosDrivingYou, claims to offer much needed transparency into a rival industry. But the reality is, each offers a carefully constructed narrative based as much on facts as on perception and rhetoric. Neither Big Taxi nor its ride-sharing disruptors are saints. And which side is deemed “right’ or “better” in this fight says as much about the personal preferences and predispositions of the person rendering that verdict as it does anything else.

With the local transportation market valued in the tens of billions of dollars worldwide, and the companies looking to disrupt it approaching similar valuations, it’s no surprise that this fight long ago turned ugly. It’s notable that for once Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar appear to be on the same side, uniting against a shared and deeply entrenched legacy competitor. But they no doubt returned to their own internal competition before the digital ink on TaxiFacts even dried.