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Uber's CEO lectures a driver about "responsibility" in an argument about fare cuts

A new video released by Bloomberg isn’t going to help with Uber’s existing public image problem.

The video was taken by Fawzi Kamel, a longtime driver in Uber’s original, high-end Uber Black service, in early February. It shows the company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, taking an Uber ride with two female companions. At the end of the ride, Kalanick and the driver get into an argument about Uber’s falling fares.

Kalanick says he didn’t have any choice about the fare cuts. “We didn’t go low-end because we wanted to. We went low-end because we had to, because we’d be out of business,” Kalanick says, referring to fierce competition from rival Lyft.

But Kamel says the fare cuts have hurt drivers like him. “People are not trusting you anymore. I lost $97,000 because of you. I'm bankrupt because of you. You keep changing every day.”

“Hold on a second,” Kalanick retorts. “What have I changed about Black? What have I changed?”

“You changed the whole business. You dropped the prices.”

“On Black?”

“Yes, you did,” Kamel says. “We started with $20.”

“Bullshit,” Kalanick retorts.

For the record, Kamel appears to be telling the truth here. Uber has cut fares multiple times since 2012, reducing the earnings of longtime drivers.

At this point, an angry Kalanick lectures the driver: “Some people don't like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else.”

While many customers appreciate Uber for bringing more competition to the taxi industry, Kalanick’s swagger and his win-at-any-cost philosophy has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Critics say he has created a sexist corporate culture and that Uber treats its drivers poorly.

This video exacerbates two of Kalanick’s problems. Most obviously, it sends a powerful message to Uber drivers that their welfare is not an Uber priority. That’s going to hurt the company’s recruitment efforts and make it easier to Lyft to recruit Uber’s drivers.

The larger problem, though, is that this video is going to further cement Uber’s reputation as a company with an asshole problem. The company’s predominantly urban, liberal audience will likely continue to wrestle with whether to patronize a company whose CEO behaves like this.

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