"The Taxi Files: #HailFail San Francisco Edition" read the subject line of a pre-packaged, HTML formatted email sent to SFist's inbox. The subject matter: San Francisco taxi drivers are murderous, poorly regulated sex-offenders (you can read the whole thing here). And the sender? Well, it wasn't all that transparent, but it sure looks like it came from a "managing director" of the PR agency that as recently as last week worked for Uber.
We get these types of emails sometimes, press releases built like op-eds or blog posts, typically from PR agencies that hope that overworked bloggers will just cut and paste their pablum and hit publish. Usually these emails are transparently marked as coming from a PR rep, but not this one: the sender was one Erin Pelton, aka "[email protected]." But it wasn't too hard to figure out that Erin Pelton appears to work for Uber's PR agency, and that the Taxi Facts website makes no bones about being an anti-taxi website run, at least in part, by Uber.
According to Taxi Facts' about page:
We are a concerned group, fed up with the false information propagated by Big Taxi monopolies. Instead of innovating to improve their services, Big Taxi wants government and politicians to protect their profits and their monopolies - even though taxis are unreliable and unsafe for riders and unfair to drivers.
TaxiFacts.com is committed to providing sourced data to set the record straight about how Big Taxi operates. In an era of scare tactics and corporate intimidation, we believe the public deserves to know the truth about Big Taxi. Our members include - CALinnovates, Center for Traffic Safety and Technology, Heartland Technology Alliance, The Internet Association, TechFreedom, Texans for Economic Progress, Transportation Safety Coalition [Ed note: which is apparently the same thing as "Center for Traffic Safety and Technology" above], and Uber Technologies.
It looks like the Taxi Facts site has been in the works for a bit: the domain was registered in June of 2014, but it appears that things didn't get rolling on the site until September 15 of this year, a little more than ten days before the district attorneys of S.F. and L.A. teamed up to investigate Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar for a handful of practices that they assert are in violation of state law.
Uber's a funny company to cover, you guys. You send them an email asking a question, and they always respond with a canned quote. Follow-up questions (about things like why the driver who allegedly hit a passenger with a hammer might have taken such a crazy route) are almost always ignored, making straight answers an impossibility. Sometimes the email statements come from an Uber email address, and sometimes from Mercury, a national PR agency. Yes, the same PR agency at which Taxi Facts' Erin Pelton is a managing director.
But here's the thing: few of the assertions made in their angry email screed regarding cab drivers are misstatements of fact, and a lot of the issues are ones we've raised on this very site.
So why doesn't Uber feel comfortable just coming out and saying these things themselves? Why does the company choose to communicate with the media this way, with prepared statements that say nothing, and then through sketchy emails and second-party-seeming websites? Why can't you just be straight with us, Uber?
It makes you look like you have something to hide.