A new year, a new Uber row - although interestingly a tiny hint that the firm might be getting its head around this ‘apology’ business.
You’ll remember that 2014 saw a rise in Uber backlash stories, ranging from putative $1 million counterstrike forces being set up to take on naughty journalists through price-scalping during a potential terrorist incident to accusations of outright sexism against women.
Well, as 2015 kicks off, let’s add alleged homophobia to that list of shame after a gay couple were chucked out of an Uber car in London for kissing and cuddling.
Corey Watts and Jordan Sloat were travelling from Covent Garden - on the edge of London's main gay district of Soho - at around 8pm on New Year's Day when the cab driver ordered them out of the vehicle and allegedly told them:
I take gays but they don't normally do this.
Watts took to Twitter to complain directly to Uber:
Meanwhile Sloat has told ITV News that:
We were kissing and cuddled next to each other when a minute or two after picking us up he pulled over and told us to get out
I've never had any homophobic stuff happen to me so I was caught off guard.
You don't expect it to happen in one of the world's biggest cities.
I wanted to understand what he was thinking so I asked the driver: 'Would you do the same thing if it was a guy or a girl?’
To add insult to injury, the couple were charged for their abortive journey! (This was later refunded.)
In a sort-of-encouraging sign compared to previous PR faux pas, Uber took action pretty quickly in this instance and suspended the Uber driver in question while investigating the allegations:
And in stark contrast to its mishandling of previous incidents, the firm seems to be learning that sorry isn’t necessarily the hardest word after all, issuing a statement that:
Uber does not tolerate any form of discrimination either by our partner drivers or towards our partner drivers.
We opened an investigation from the moment we learned of this unacceptable incident and have been in contact with the rider to extended our sincere apologies and get further information.
Good. Quite right too.
That said, there have been other incidents of a similar nature reported that suggest that Uber needs to get on top of this problem, such as this from earlier in the year:
The latest incident has once again damaged the Uber brand of course:
And from a commercial perspective, at least one business has stepped up to the mark here:
- There is no place for bigotry in any form of service-driven industry. I’m glad that Uber took action swiftly on this particular occasion, although as the driver has only been suspended to date, this one needs keeping an eye on to see what the outcome of the investigation throws up.
- If proven, the allegations must result in the sacking of the driver in question and surely a revisiting of Uber's vetting procedures.
- Whatever the case, it's just another nail in the Uber coffin for many I suspect. Hacking off the ‘pink pound’ (or dollar or Euro etc) is a really commercially dangerous thing for an ‘on trend' mobile-based business to do.
- Personally I ended 2014 an Uber virgin. And the one New Year’s Resolution I am entirely confident I’ll stick to is that I will end 2015 in a similar state.