In a move that seemed designed to drive home the point about Uber's usefulness to low-income New Yorkers, the company offered free food and job applications in a park right in the heart of the nation's largest public housing development this afternoon. Queensbridge Park attracted a crowd of around 200 drivers, hopeful drivers, and random people lured by the impressive lunch spread.
This week, the city council will vote on the future of Uber in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to put a cap on the company's growth, but Uber argues that it shouldn't be inhibited because the company provides valuable jobs and service to the New Yorkers who need them most.
"The upcoming jobs tour, which we hope to continue beyond the July 21st kick off event, will consist of six additional events in the outer boroughs in the following six weeks, offering thousands of New Yorkers good paying, flexible job opportunities through the Uber platform," Uber said in a press release.
Among those there for the food, 11-year-old Nozima Khodjamov from Brooklyn was with her mom and younger sister.
"A message was sent to my dad on his phone [on the Uber app] and they said there's a picnic here from 10:30 to 2," she said. "He said there was food and the family was welcome, so that's how we came here."
Asked what she thought about Uber, she said, "It's okay. It's good."
One woman was in line to sign up for more information about working for Uber after her husband left his yellow cab career behind for the company a few weeks ago.
"He's making more money in Uber than he was making in a yellow cab. He loves this … I hope I make as much money as he does," said Preeti Khaur, 25, from Queens.
But yellow cab drivers have argued that Uber's growth should be capped to keep them in line with Taxi and Limousine Commission regulations of cabs. The TLC only sells a limited number of the medallions required to drive a cab per year. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance said in a press conference yesterday that its livelihood is threatened by Uber, and that the company's claims to provide secure jobs is a flimsy one because drivers are not recognized as employees and don't get benefits.
The two city council bills, which will likely be voted on later this week, are aimed at setting up a study of how services like Uber might be contributing to traffic congestion in Manhattan, and putting a limit on how many new cars they can put on the road until next August when the results come out.
The company has argued that if the cap on growth is passed, meaning they can only hire 200 new drivers until next August, the city will lose out on 10,000 potential new jobs.
Uber management says it's not really about congestion in Manhattan, but rather about the mayor doing his donor friends in the yellow cab industry a favor–De Blasio has in the past received political contributions from the taxi industry, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Josh Mohrer, Uber New York's General Manager, spoke to Fusion earlier today. "The reality is, people like Uber because it’s reliable in a way that yellow cabs aren’t. If you supply-constrain Uber, it too will eventually become unreliable. Vehicles will focus on the high end in midtown Manhattan, rather than the outer boroughs," he said.
The company has amassed support from more local politicians in the last week, while Mayor Bill De Blasio wrote an op-ed in the Daily News sticking to his guns, defending the bills, and arguing that the company has been arrogant in thinking it doesn't need to be regulated more.
"While most businesses recognize the role of the city to set basic standards and look out for the broader public interest, Uber—a $40 billion corporation—is out with multi-million dollar ads trying to convince New Yorkers that it doesn't need more oversight," De Blasio wrote. Those ads, which not-so-subtly suggest that Uber is New York's egalitarian car service, have been all over local television. Here's an example:
De Blasio's op-ed and the company's strategy seems to suggest the conversation has moved on to tackle what a company like Uber's place is in the landscape of a modern city.
At the Uber event today, New York State Assembly Member Michael Blake from the Bronx said he's supporting Uber because he thinks it levels the playing field for job seekers and cab seekers alike, also referencing how hard it is to hail a cab off the street as a black man.
"This is our chance to stand on the right side of economic justice," he said.