Does Uber deserve to be blamed for breaking the JFK taxi strike?

On Saturday evening, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the US for at least the next 90 days.

In response, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called for drivers to avoid John F. Kennedy International Airport between 6 and 7pm Eastern time on Saturday.

Uber took a different approach, however, and announced via its Twitter feed that surge pricing had been turned off at JFK, meaning that travel to and from the airport would be cheaper.

Although, the tweet was sent out around 30 minutes after the strike had been scheduled to end, the move was quickly interpreted as an attempt by Uber to break the strike.

“We’re sorry for any confusion about our earlier tweet—it was not meant to break up any strike,” read a statement from Uber. “We wanted people to know they could use Uber to get to and from JFK at normal prices, especially tonight.”

While Uber claims its actions were benevolent and that it was attempting to assist riders on their way to and from the protest scene, the question of why Uber didn’t ask its drivers to join the protest has not yet been answered.

Uber didn’t respond to Factor at the time of going to press.

Twitter users reacted angrily to Uber’s decision with many people supporting the #DeleteUber hashtag and claiming that they would be using rival service Lyft from now on.

The whole saga represents a PR victory for Lyft who, according to the Washington Post, also paused its surge pricing and continued to operate, but rather than publicising that instead announced that “the immigration ban was antithetical to Lyft’s core values, and the company would be donating $1 million over four years to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Uber and it’s CEO and co-founder, Travis Kalanick, were prompted to release as statement, which reassured customers that it is working out a process to identify affected drivers so that they can be compensated while the ban is in effect to help mitigate some of the financial stress.

Uber announced that it would establish a $3 million fund to assist drivers affected by the ban.

Along with a number of other prominent CEOs, including Tesla’s Elon Musk,  Kalanick sits on President Trump’s economic advisory group.

The association hasn’t gone unnoticed by Uber’s customers, and Kalanick was also forced to defend his decision to advise Trump.

“I understand that many people internally and externally may not agree with that decision, and that’s OK,” said Kalanick. “It’s the magic of living in America that people are free to disagree. But whatever your view please know that I’ve always believed in principled confrontation and just change; and have never shied away (maybe to my detriment) from fighting for what’s right.”

Update: Uber has told Factor, “drivers who use the app are independent and were completely free to participate if they wanted.” 

Featured image courtesy of Jirapong Manustrong / Shutterstock, Inc.

Europe opens its doors to Hyperloop with French R&D centre

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) has signed an agreement to break ground on a European facility in Toulouse, France, at the site of the former Francazal air base. The first stages of construction will begin this year, and the company hopes to have the hyperloop technology itself in a fully functioning and marketable format within the next few years.

The California-based startup was founded in 2013 and signed the agreement with Jean-Luc Moudenc, Mayor of Toulouse and president of Toulouse Métropole, Carole Delga, president of the Occitania Region, and Pascal Mailhos, prefect of the Occitania Region. The transportation company was represented by Dirk Ahlborn and Bibop Gresta, CEO and chairman respectively.

“Toulouse is the nerve center of the European aerospace industry and global innovation, and it felt natural for us to have a presence here, alongside so many of our partners and colleagues,” stated Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of HTT. “We are very grateful indeed for the welcome extended to us by Toulouse Métropole, who received us with open arms.”

An architectural rendering of the proposed research centre. Image courtesy of Agence François Leclercq. Featured image courtesy of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

Since first being presented by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, hyperloop has become one of the premium models of future transport. Moving capsules with passive magnetic levitation through low pressure tubes at top speeds of 1,200km/h, hyperloop systems have the potential to revolutionise public transport in the next few years.

Perhaps most importantly, the decision by an American company to found their R&D centre in France could mean good things for those hoping hyperloop will be established in Western Europe. With much of the ongoing work, particularly from competitor Hyperloop One, occurring in the US and the Middle East, it is promising to see the technology gaining some ground on European soil.

As things currently stand, hyperloop technology has been proved successful in test environments but still has a way to go before you’ll be stepping into one of these superfast tubes to get to work.

A large part of making this a reality will be proving the viability of the technology to officials and industry members; transforming it into a marketable concept. With the establishment of HTT’s centre in mainland western Europe, we can be hopeful that demonstration will soon pay off.

HTT’s European centre will serve as a hub of research and development, comprising of a 1km full-scale testing track, a platform for sharing research with academics, a lab for related technologies and a demonstration centre to act as both showcase and tourism venue. The centre will benefit from the establish industry in the Toulouse region.  

“By welcoming the HTT project to the region, Occitania / Pyrénées-Méditerranée once again confirms its status as a land of innovation, looking ahead to the future and to the challenges associated with sustainable transport solutions,” stated Carole Delga, president of the Occitania / Pyrénées-Méditerranée Region.

“This American company will make full use of our local business ecosystem, which is particularly effective and boasts an exceptional wealth of scientific savoir-faire in the fields of aerospace, on-board systems and mobility.”