by Jeanie Riess
Uber, the cellphone app that connects riders to drivers, is stepping up its grassroots game in the wake of a New Orleans city Council ordinance introduced Thursday that would make changes to the city's transportation code to be more receptive to the app, but would also enforce a minimum $25 charge for sedan rides, a minimum $35 charge for SUV rides and a flat rate of $75 for trips to the airport.
Uber, whose business model is based on fluctuating prices that are determined by demand, isn't happy with those minimum charges — though, in an email blast to its New Orleans base, it did call the proposal a "step in the right direction." That's compared to the city's initially not-so-warm welcome last October, when Taxicab Bureau Director Malachi Hull issued a cease-and-desist letter before the San Francisco-based Uber even began operating in New Orleans. (Read our February cover story, "Why New Orleans Doesn't Have Uber.")
The email blast is just one way Uber is trying to get New Orleans residents to take action. Near the bottom of the email, Uber provides the link to a pre-composed tweet to New Orleans City Councilmembers to show support for the tech company, and then closes the message with, "This is a fight we can win, but only if you make your voice heard."
In February, Uber representative Nairi Hourdajian told Gambit that the company has never experienced as much resistance expanding into a city as it has in New Orleans. Hourdajian also encouraged consumers to get involved in the conversation: "We are excited about New Orleans, and our expansion to New Orleans really depends on the city and the state standing up and saying, 'We want more options for consumers."
It's not the first time Uber has launched a power-to-the-people social media campaign in a local market. Uber just expanded into Austin, Texas last week, and before the city lifted its tight regulations keeping Uber out, the Austin Uber Twitterfeed similarly urged consumers to fight for the service.
There's no question it's catching on here in New Orleans, too. A Change.org petition to bring Uber to New Orleans now boasts 1,966 supporters and counting, and the hashtag #NOLANeedsUber, included in the pre-written tweet, brings up an exhaustive list of tweets urging for Uber's expansion.