Uber and out? Trying times for the tarnished app

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As Uber struggles to recover from a string of scandals, experts say there are still a few strategies the taxi-sharing firm can employ to ensure its app remains popular.

"The question is can Uber survive the ride-share storm and transform itself into a business that local governments want to actively promote, rather than stamp out completely?" Caroline Bremner, head of travel and tourism research at Euromonitor, said in a report this week.

Public perception of Uber is shaky following numerous reports of passenger assaults. Last month, the rape of a customer in New Delhi sparked international criticism at how the firm screens drivers. The San Francisco-based firm's latest charge comes just two weeks into 2015 with the sexual assault of a 21-year old in Chicago by an UberX driver.

Coupled with regulatory issues and complaints of unfair competition by local taxi associations, the scandals led South Korea, China, Germany, Spain, India, Holland and Thailand to ban Uber services.

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"The whole story behind its $42 billion valuation is its ability to expand across the globe, but they are being challenged at every doorstep," said Edmund Lee, managing editor of Re/code, in a December interview.

Focus on partnerships

"One way to ensure survival is to make the brand sticky. Uber, thanks to its application program interface (API), has been very active in establishing partnerships through its affiliate program with iconic global brands," Bremner said.

Any app with a map is a potential partner for Uber, according to the company's blog. By improving its business-to-business (B2B) technology, Uber can become more embedded in the travel and leisure industries, according to Bremner, which should see it maintain its stronghold in the taxi app market.

"Uber is also one of the brands lined up to be launched on Apple Watch, which is set to take wearable technology to the masses later in 2015 and is expected to cause a step-change in the acceptance of contactless mobile payments, which again is likely to work in Uber's favor," Bremner noted.

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In addition, she said the company could make vertical or horizontal acquisitions such as ground transportation companies or car rental brands to move up the distribution chain.

Make friends, not enemies

Finding success abroad hinges on greater "politicking," warned Re/code's Lee.

"That's something a lot of Silicon Valley companies are still figuring out, that when you want to enter new markets or disrupt old markets, you have to play it the right way and talk to the municipality and politicians and make sure they understand that you're not necessarily trying to break the law," he said.

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City officials may take a more favorable stance to Uber if it can help on issues important to urban planning, such as traffic congestion and pollution. Uberpool, a service that pairs passengers travelling on similar routes in one car rather than offering separate rides, is a prime example, with the company claiming that one million cars could be taken off the streets of New York as a result.

"If Uber is to ride out the storm, it needs to strike a more conciliatory approach with local governments, which means being part of the urban transport solution rather than being deemed to be a problem," Euromonitor said.

Social responsibility

Uber could also embrace women's rights as part of its corporate social responsibility strategy to highlight the importance of women and children's safety in light of its multiple sexual assault cases, Euromonitor mentioned.

"As a first step, this could take the form of a women-only Uber brand, driven by women for female passengers," Bremner stated.