Uber faces major backlash

The hashtag #deleteuber has gained traction

(Credit: CNN)

(CNN) – His pro-business platform and push for jobs helped him win the White House, but to Uber, Donald Trump has become a toxic liability.

With scores of customers publicly deleting their accounts, Uber’s embattled CEO resigned from the president’s business council. The 40 year old billionaire was under enormous pressure from both customers and his own employees, who felt that a close connection to Trump could destroy the company’s image.

Travis Kalanick faced withering criticism for agreeing to take a seat on the president’s economic council. But in the wake of the president’s controversial immigration and travel ban for citizens of seven countries, he was forced to reconsider.

In a statement to employees, Uber’s Kalanick wrote, “Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda, but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that.”

Uber’s public troubles began last week as thousands at New York’s JFK airport marched in protest of the ban, the local taxi union called for a one hour strike in a show of solidarity.

Minutes after the strike, Uber moved in and tweeted it was disabling its surge pricing feature. The move sparked immediate backlash, as thousands saw it as an attempt to profit from the strike. The company said it was actually the opposite.

The hashtag #deleteuber gained instant traction.

Tech Analyst Bob O’Donnell said, “Uber decided to essentially cross the picket line, that’s how it was perceived by reducing the surge pricing to get people to the airport when the taxi drivers were on strike. Well, that ticked a lot of people off and it felt it was contributing to supporting this very negative action that a lot of people felt about this immigration ban.”

The PR blunder led to a surge in business for its much smaller competitor Lyft, which even briefly surpassed Uber in downloads.

Dean Kaizer drives an Uber full time. He said, “They’re coming in here and saying ‘oh we almost didn’t take Uber today, we really we’re sure if we should. We were going to go with Lyft or take a taxi.’”

The backlash highlights the danger Silicon Valley companies may face by working closely with the new president.

The immigration order is seen as being deeply offensive to tech workers, many of whom are immigrants themselves. Kalanick called the order wrong and unjust, and pledged $3-million for drivers facing immigration hardship.

In his email to employees, Kalanick said he briefly spoke to the president to say he was withdrawing from the council. While Lyft has been the beneficiary of all of this, it should be noted that two of its key investors also have ties to Trump, Financier Carl Icahn and Silicon Valley Peter Thiel, who spoke in support of Trump at Republican National Convention.