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.


This just in: the latest update on Vancouver’s White Christmas crisis

  • With council debating a motion to have an independent inquiry into the Christmas and New Year’s snow crisis, it’s helpful to review this comprehensive report from City Engineer Jerry Dobrovolny, who headed up the clean-up.

Among the key conclusions:

  • there was never a salt shortage, despite reports to the contrary;
  • the snow event was of unprecedented length and intensity;
  • gaps in garbage pick-up and recycling pick-up were concentrated in certain areas and impacted a relatively small share of residents; and
  • city staff did everything they could, in the right order, to get the situation normalized.

The motion council began with thanks to city staff for their efforts and asking for estimates of the cost of providing full snow removal on side streets.

It was a difficult time, no doubt, and a challenge to improve in the future. But as a former Toronto resident told council — the only speaker on an issue that seized the city for two weeks — now that it’s melted, few people still care.

Extending municipal vote to permanent residents a key election task force proposal

Only one of the City of Vancouver’s Independent Election Task Force proposals to increase voter turnout seems sure to achieve the goal: extending the municipal vote to permanent residents.

This group of 60,000 residents have made a decision to stay in Canada and, in almost all cases, to become Canadian citizens. They work, pay taxes and contribute to our community but do not have the right to vote.

This means between eight and ten percent of the city’s residents don’t have voting rights. Adding them to the voters’ list in 2014 would have increase the number of city voters to 482,000 from the 422,000 registered that year. About 182,000 voted in 2014, increasing turnout to 43 percent from 35 percent in 2011, suggesting 24,000 additional ballots could have come from permanent residents.

(You can read the entire proposal here at page 102.)

This can’t happen fast. It would require a change to the Vancouver Charter to make it happen, as well as reform of the provincial rules for registration, because the city uses the Elections BC voting list.

At first, the idea of extending vote rights to non-citizen permanent residents seems challenging. On second thought, it seems in line with the long history of expanding democratic rights to non-property owners, women, Japanese Canadians, Chinese Canadians and Aboriginal people. In an era of wall-building and even ethnic cleansing, measures of inclusion and tolerance seem to be more important than ever.

The idea has found support elsewhere. The task force notes that “a number of municipalities in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia have investigated and supported extending voting rights to permanent residents, including Toronto, North Bay, Guelph, Kitchener, Saint John, Fredericton, Edmundston, Moncton, Dieppe and Halifax.

“Around the world, more than 45 countries granted permanent residents the right to vote, with some regulations and/or residency restrictions, including seven municipalities in the US, Hong Kong, Uruguay, Israel, 25 European Union countries such as Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Finland, Slovenia and 15 Commonwealth Nations including Australia and New Zealand.”

This is one of the task force’s most important and practical recommendations — it deserves serious consideration.


What transit fare is fair? Translink riders want lower fares, particularly for short trips

Translink’s comprehensive fare review, the first since the modern system was established a generation ago, is finding strong support for lower fares for frequent riders making short trips.

But is such a fare system fair?

As transit expert Jarrett Walker has explained, the fairness of fares can vary depending on the trip, the rider and many other factors.

Translink expects to release a range of new fare structure options in the first half of 2017, with a final decision some time in 2018. The new structure, based on the Compass card and the reams of data the new fare card is producing, could have a dramatic impact on city transit riders.

The first round of consultation, which included both a market research study and a public questionnaire filled out by thousands of riders, found “lower fares for shorter distance trips” a priority for both groups. Translink reports that 59 percent of trips under 10 kilometres are taken by people reporting income of under $25,000 a year, a fact which underlines the social justice  aspect of fare policy.

But in Metro Vancouver’s brutal housing market, people with lower incomes are often forced to make longer and longer trips between work and home.  These long distance trips can touch three zones and cost the maximum if Skytrain is involved, but a trip of similar length by bus is a single zone fare.

These are the issues Translink must reckon with. The City of Vancouver’s transportation engineers are monitoring the fare review closely to make sure the views of city transit riders are heard. As things stand, Vancouver riders would like lower fares for frequent riders making short trips — people like them. Is that fair? Time will tell.