Uber CEO Caught On Video Arguing With Driver Over Lowered Fares

A video showing Travis Kalanick arguing with a driver has led to yet another Uber apology

Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO and the subject of its latest controversy. — REUTERS
Mar 01, 2017 at 12:33 PM ET

Much like its drivers and their steadily decreasing rates, Uber can’t catch a break lately. From the #DeleteUber campaign to a former female engineer’s viral story about how sexism ran rampant through her division and HR did nothing to stop it, the company has gotten some very bad press. CEO Travis Kalanick has come forward to apologize for the incidents and promise to do everything in his power to make things better. But now Kalanick, personally, is the subject of Uber’s latest bad news.

A few weeks ago, Kalanick availed himself of his own company’s services, taking an Uber Black (the higher-end Uber service) to an unknown destination with two lady friends. What Kalanick didn’t seem to realize was that his driver, Fawzi Kamel, had a camera in the car (these have proved to be a valuable tool for self-protection for drivers). So when, at the end of the ride, Kamel and Kalanick got in a heated dispute, it was all on tape for Kamel to hand over to Bloomberg.

In fairness to Kalanick, it was Kamel who started the conversation that ultimately went bad. Kalanick shakes Kamel’s hand when the ride is over, and Kamel — who told Bloomberg he’s been driving for Uber since 2011 — says “I don’t know if you remember me, but that’s fine.” This prompts Kalanick to tell him that the company is reducing the number of Uber Blacks over the next six months, which should be good for Kamel, because it means less competition for fares. Kamel’s not very appreciative, though. He points out that “it’s all about the rates,” and those have been dropping. Kalanick protests, saying the prices on Blacks won’t be dropping. Kamel says that overall, rates have dropped even though, he believes, Uber pretty much owns the market and could charge more.

Kalanick says Uber “started high-end” but had to go “low-end” to compete and stay in business. Kamel doesn’t care; he says he’s already “lost $97,000 because of you. I’m bankrupt because of you.” (Kamel doesn’t specify how he lost all that money, but it’s likely it was from having to buy a high-end car to be able to be an Uber Black driver in the first place, possibly financed through one of Uber’s agreements with questionable loan companies.) Kalanick insists that he hasn’t changed anything about the Black service, but Kamel says the prices have dropped. A lot.

“Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit,” Kalanick retorts. “They blame everything in their life on somebody else.” With that, he exits the car. Kamel gave his passenger a rating of one star.

After the story broke and exposed Uber to more widespread criticism, Kalanick, who once prided himself on his use of what he called “principled confrontation” to get his way, sent yet another apology letter to his team. Unlike other apologies, he admitted that he is having trouble leading his own company.

“I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” Kalanick, who is 40 years old, wrote. “This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”

But it seems the Uber driver community isn’t buying it. Over at UberPeople, which tends to be a place for dissatisfied Uber drivers to vent and commiserate, users applauded Kamel’s comments to Kalanick as well as his decision to release the video to the media (some also criticized Kalanick for not wearing a seatbelt in the video). In private Facebook groups for Uber drivers, the reaction was about the same: many hold Kalanick responsible for dropping rates and making drivers’ lives harder while taking a nice fat paycheck for himself. In both the forum and Facebook groups, one person commented multiple times to passionately defend Uber while casting doubt on Kamel’s claims, leading others to accuse him of being an Uber plant.

If Kalanick has his way, he won’t have to deal with ungrateful human drivers much longer, as Uber is developing driverless cars. Yet this, too, has caused further controversy for the company, as its attempt to test the cars on California’s roads sans necessary permits caused their registrations to be pulled. The New York Times reported that the cars also had trouble recognizing red lights and, in at least one case, ran a light while in autonomous mode — contrary to the company’s statement that a human driver caused the error. Last week, Uber was sued by Google, which alleges that a former employee stole its self-driving technology to start his own company, which was then acquired by Uber a few months later. Uber has denied Google’s claims.