Travis Kalanick’s public image keeps taking a beating.
There are the things the Uber CEO has said: “Boober” and “hashtag winning.” There are the things his company has done: sabotage competitors’ rides and fundraising, threaten “opp research” on journalists, flout laws, and play political hardball with regulators. There’s the way Uber has mistreated its drivers: signing them into sketchy auto-financing arrangements and systematically misrepresenting how much they can earn on the platform. Most recently, there are the internal scandals: alleged sexual harassment, alleged theft of self-driving technology, and a senior engineer who was hired (and yesterday, fired) over a “credible” sexual harassment charge from his time at Google.
It was all bad, but today, for Kalanick, it’s worse. In a video from early February obtained and published by Bloomberg, he can be seen berating and belittling one of his own drivers.
The video, available in full on YouTube, opens with Kalanick seated between two female companions in the backseat of an Uber. He shimmies to Maroon 5 and chats with the women, thumbs twiddling on his phone. Eventually, the car pulls over and the two women get out. The driver shakes Kalanick’s hand, and asks him why Uber slashed rates on UberBlack, the company’s luxury service tier. “You’re raising the standards and dropping the prices,” the driver, Fawzi Kamel, says.
“You’re misunderstanding,” Kalanick says, with a slight shake of his head. “We started high-end. We didn’t go low-end because we wanted to. We went low-end because we had to.”
Kamel pushes the point. ”People are not trusting you anymore,” he says. “I lost $97,000 because of you. I bankrupt because of you. You keep changing every day!”
Kalanick begins to lose his temper. “Hold on a second! What have I changed about Black?”
Kamel: “You changed the whole business!”
Kalanick: “What? What?”
Kamel: “You dropped the prices.”
Kalanick: “On black?”
Kamel: “Yes, you did.”
Kamel: “We started with $20.”
Kamel: “We started with $20. How much is the mile now, $2.75?”
Kalanick: “You know what?”
Kalanick: “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!”
To reiterate, the long list of grievances against Uber includes, prominently, the way it treats drivers. It has fought tooth-and-nail in court to keep its drivers from being classified as employees, a status that confers both benefits and minimum wage protection. Uber also refuses to add tipping to the app, a change that would greatly benefit drivers and have no significant impact on the service. Mix all those things together and you get absurd situations like the partnership Uber debuted with Zipcar in Boston earlier this month, the rental rates of which all but guaranteed participating drivers would fall below the local wage floor.
Maybe it’s time for Uber and Kalanick to start taking responsibility for their own shit.