uber ceo travis kalanick

Kalanick speaks to students during a session at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus in Mumbai. Source: Reuters

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick apologizes after fare row with an Uber driver emerges

IS this what a downward spiral looks like? Barely a week has gone by since the sexual harassment allegations, and already Uber’s embroiled in yet another PR scandal.

CEO Travis Kalanick has issued yet another apology, this time for his own actions. In a six-minute video captured by dash cam, Kalanick is seen engaging in a heated argument with an Uber driver over reduced fares.

While the conversation began with a handshake, the mood quickly escalated as Uber driver Fawzi Kamel pointed out that fares have been reduced “in general” across a number of Uber services. For example, an Uber Black ride cost US$4.90 per mile back in 2012 and is now down to US$3.75 per mile.

Kalanick explained that Uber has had to lower fares in order to stay competitive in the ride-hailing market. “We didn’t go low-end because we wanted to. We went low-end because we had to,” said Kalanick in the video.

While Uber began in 2010 just offering black cars, a much higher-end service than it provides today, it has had to diversify its transport options to stay competitive with rivals such as Lyft in the U.S., or Grab in SEA. While Kalanick’s explanation was logical, he was certainly in the wrong when he promptly lost his cool.

Then Kamel began leveling accusations, claiming that he lost US$97,000 and is going bankrupt because of Kalanick’s business decisions – and that’s when the CEO snapped and began to retaliate. “Bullsh*t. You know what? Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own sh*t. They blame everything in their life on everyone else,” he yelled and got out of the car.

Kalanick has since issued an apology on the Uber website, which appears to be as “profound” as it claims: “It’s clear this video is a reflection of me – and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”

But is it too late? A NBC News interview with Kamel, where the driver explains why he stood up to Kalanick, is making its Internet rounds – which will make the incident tough to bury. Also, Uber already learned a very painful lesson when it lost 200,000 users over the #deleteuber campaign early last month, and Kalanick’s latest antics are just adding insult to injury. At this point, Uber has suffered four scandals in ten days and we’re bracing ourselves for the next one.