×

Some Uber riders react to sexism claims with their wallets

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick
Wang K'aichicn | VCG/VCG | Getty Images
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

Uber is famous for its confrontational business approach. But this time it's riders who are getting in Uber's face.

First some of them deleted their accounts when the ride-hailing company did not honor a one-hour work stoppage called by New York cabbies at John F. Kennedy International Airport to protest Pres. Trump's controversial immigration order.

Then Uber caught flak when its chief executive Travis Kalanick refused to step down from Trump's economic advisory council. (He eventually did).

Now charges of sexual harassment and gender discrimination from a former engineer, Susan Fowler, have convinced more riders to ditch the ride-hailing app.

More from USA Today:
Lyft faces its big moment to leap ahead of Uber
Uber's Kalanick faces crisis over 'baller' culture
Silicon Valley's dirty little secret: The way it treats women

Alyson DeNardo says she used Uber and UberEats more than any other app on her phone. Then she read Fowler's lengthy blog post alleging the company ignored her complaints of sexual harassment and mistreated female employees. She says it made her stomach turn.

"I was outraged as a customer using their product and significantly concerned for every woman who works at Uber," said DeNardo, who is head of public relations and social media for Justin Kan Enterprises and start-up incubator Zero-F in San Francisco. "I refuse to support a company that actively puts the performance of their company over the well-being of their employees."

Now she's riding Lyft and public transportation. And DeNardo says she's not alone. "I find it incredibly hard to find anyone that will vocally admit they still use Uber," she said.

Despite taking heat for its corporate culture and business practice, Uber remains the most popular ride-hailing app. And it could still repair its image with consumers, who often don't stick to pledges of a boycott. Downloads, which dropped after the late January #deleteuber campaign, have already bounced back.

But spending is down, ratings are low and other riders say they, too, would delete the Uber app — if they hadn't already deleted it.

'Point of no return'

Jamie Rondeau, a small business owner and mother of four from a suburb outside Phoenix, says she had always appreciated Uber's "disrupter" mindset, building a successful enterprise by shaking up the status quo and creating new and better options for consumers.

But she quit Uber after the JFK airport incident. Fowler's charges, she says, were "the point of no return." Instead she hails cabs, rents cars and hops on public transportation. For an upcoming business trip to Atlanta, she plans to download Lyft.

"I have a lot of choices and I am going to vote with my money," Rondeau said.

Data from consumer spending analytics firm TXN Solutions shows Uber's market share has slipped by about 5% since the #DeleteUber campaign began in late January and, these researchers say, it's not rebounding.

The week before the #DeleteUber campaign, Uber had 83.5% of the ride-hailing market and Lyft had 16.5%, according to TXN, which crunches data on spending habits from a research panel of more than 3 million consumers.

Uber's troubles resulted in market-share gains for Lyft, which had 20.9% of the market following #DeleteUber and got another bump to 21.3% after Fowler's blog post. The decline in Uber's market share was consistent in all four of its top markets: New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, TXN found.

"Consumers have a short memory and some percentage of these people will go back. But all of these negative stories have kept the numbers suppressed and they have not rebounded to their historical average," TXN CEO Jonathan Wolf said.

Downloads up, ratings down

But will that last? Uber says it had not seen a major uptick in people deleting the app in the last 60 days, though it did not provide ridership numbers. Downloads over the past few weeks have been higher than average, according to research firm Mobile Action.

The bottom line: When it comes to putting their money where their mouth is on social media, consumers often don't follow through with their threats to boycott businesses or they don't boycott businesses for long.

That's what analytics firm App Annie found. It says Lyft briefly overtook Uber in iPhone app downloads for the first time during the #DeleteUber campaign in late January, but Uber soon recovered. "On the whole, we have not seen a significant or lasting shift in daily download trends for Uber in light of recent events," said App Annie spokeswoman Christine Kim.

Riders are expressing their unhappiness with Uber in another way, according to App Annie. New ratings of Uber's app in the Apple store largely consist of 1-star reviews while Lyft has averaged 4.5-star reviews, it found.

At the same time, spending nationwide on Uber in the four weeks after Jan. 30 declined 2% compared to the prior four weeks, while Lyft spending jumped 30%. The #DeleteUber campaign gathered momentum on Jan. 30 after a weekend of protests against the travel ban.

In a breakdown of nearly 40 U.S. markets, spending on the two ride-hailing apps shifted dramatically in some cities. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, Uber spending declined 7% while Lyft spending surged 24%; in the companies' hometowns of San Francisco, Uber was down 8% and Lyft was up 24%.

To understand why, just ask Forest Handford, an engineering manager from Boston who downloaded the Lyft app and used it to get around San Francisco last week during the Game Developers Conference.

He says he deleted the Uber over its response to Trump's immigration ban. "Reading Susan Fowler's blog post," he said, "made me even more glad that I had."

Handford says he's fed up with women having to endure sexism, harassment and discrimination in the male-dominated tech industry.

Allyson Kapin, founder of Rad Campaign and Women Who Tech in Washington, D.C., says previous incidents, such as Uber advertising that was demeaning to women and a top executive's suggestion that the company conduct opposition research on journalists who are critical of Uber, were shocking and disappointing but hadn't kept her from hailing rides on the smartphone app.

"The final straw for me was hearing Susan's story," she said. "I will not financially support a company that tolerates sexual harassment."

Kapin, who's switched to Lyft and is pushing for companies like Uber to fix their "brogrammer" corporate culture, says she won't ride Uber again without a "radical culture change that starts at the top."

On Tuesday, Kalanick said he was hunting for a chief operating officer to help him lead Uber. Board member Arianna Huffington and human resources chief Liane Hornsey are working on new rules designed to keep bad behavior in check.

"Uber has a real opportunity to take a step back and get this right," Kapin said, "and serve as a model for other companies."

But for some, it's already too late. They say they've quit Uber for good.

"I can't think of anything that Uber could do that would bring me back," DeNardo said. "They could offer me free transportation for a year and I would adamantly refuse."