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PR campaign puts Uber under attack on multiple fronts

WATCH ABOVE: As ride sharing company heads into court battle with city next week, it also faces a PR assault from taxi industry. Mark Carcasole reports. 

TORONTO — As Uber prepares to go to court next Monday to fight a potential injunction banning its operation in Toronto, the controversial ridesharing company also finds itself dodging attacks from multiple PR campaigns launched by members of the Canadian taxi industry.

While its ease of use and relatively low price points make the app a favourite among tech-savvy travellers, taxi companies say Uber’s business model leaves riders at risk.

“They’re not regulated,” says Alex Pierson, a spokesperson for Toronto-based Co-Op Cabs.

“They say they have insurance, no one has seen it; they say they do background checks [on drivers], but we don’t really know what kind of background checks they do.”

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With the help of the Sussex Group, Co-Op has launched a series of radio ads that have aired around the Toronto area as well as several print ads that have been posted in the stalls of ladies’ restrooms in various downtown bars.

One of Co-Op Cabs’s posters.

 

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The print ads feature the question “Do you know who’s driving you?” in bold lettering, with a subtitle reading “friends don’t let friends take Uber X without asking the right questions.”

Asked what those questions are, Pierson lists off several: “is [the vehicle] commercially insured? What kind of licensing do the drivers have? What kind of maintenance does the car have?”
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The twin campaigns both push the reader or listener to the webpage ChooseTaxi.ca.

A similar campaign launched by the Canadian Taxicab Operators Group is hosted at the site TaxiTruths.ca. It takes the same tactic; bringing up concerns with Uber, while highlighting the apparent benefits of licensed cabs.

The campaigns have received added ammunition lately thanks to a couple incidents of bad press for Uber over the last week, including an alleged sexual assault by a driver in Vaughan.

“They’re playing on those fears,” says Randi Rahamim, a Principal at the PR firm Navigator Ltd. “And because there’s some media coverage to that effect right now, they’re using that media coverage to their advantage.”

Neither ad mentions the fact that there have been multiple allegations of crime made against cabbies against their fares over the years as well.

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While Uber is more than happy to engage in PR that benefits its name and reputation — like its Puppies On-Demand promotion to raise awareness for shelter pet adoption — it usually falls fairly quiet when facing public attacks.

In this case, no one was available for an interview, but a statement was provided to Global News.

“The reality is that the taxi industry’s PR tactics don’t resonate,” said the statement from Uber. “Our focus remains on meeting the needs of Toronto’s riders and drivers and ensuring we continue to provide the safest rides on the roads.”

“If they fight back they raise more awareness of these issues,” says Rahamim. She says the rope-a-dope approach is probably the best route to take.

“What’s in their interest…is to have this go quiet.”

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