"We've had 1.4 billion impressions in just 14 days," said NLA Secretary Scott Solombrino of Dav El/BostonCoach regarding the PSA. "In comparison, all of the press releases that NLA produced last year barely hit 1 billion impressions, combined. We've had a massive impact on these companies that have tens of millions of dollars for public relations."
This is the second PSA that the NLA has produced with Anderson. The first, "The Driver Game," featured a flirty Anderson interviewing drivers in the style of the "The Dating Game." This time around, "The Signs" PSA—with a more serious tone and a focus directed toward corporate customers and corporate travel buyers—caught the attention of media outlets like The New York Times, Today With Megyn Kelly, the U.K.'s Daily Mail, and was even featured in entertainment website TMZ's daily rundown. Millions have seen the video.
"When I first embarked on my quest to raise awareness about the safety risks associated with ride-hailing apps, I had no idea about the frequency or disturbing nature of the incidents," said Anderson. "It is digital hitchhiking. These apps are optimized for predators and will remain so until common sense safety measures are put in place."
Kelly had a sit-down interview with the actress, where she recalled times in Hollywood where she was promised cars or homes if she would be a director's or a producer's "number-one girl," but that she walked away without exception. Anderson has also been open about her abuse by a babysitter and a later rape when she was a preteen, and she now works closely with nonprofit PAVE, which aims to empower students, parents, and civic leaders to end sexual violence with prevention education. PAVE, founded by rape survivor Angela Rose in 2001, also cosponsored the PSA.
"The question is, whether [Uber & Lyft's background checks] are as tough as ones you get through a pre-arranged service. The bottom line is be smart, be safe, and never get into any car with someone who is a stranger to you," said Kelly during the program.
When the NLA's Ride Responsibly campaign was announced in 2015, the association leaders knew that it was going to be a battle for the future of the industry—but one that pitted a small but respected association against a multi-billion-dollar company with a lot of free, positive press and a public that loved it. (Lyft at the time was riding on the coattails of Uber, allowing the larger company to front the battles with legislatures.) Society is changing so quickly that legislators and the general public are usually more fascinated by what technology can do rather than being concerned about its potential negative consequences, and that certainly seemed to be the case with TNCs.
"I've had numerous meetings with California legislators and they get it, but they won't stop or slow down the progress of these companies for the sake of innovation," said NLA President Gary Buffo, whose company, Pure Luxury Transportation, is based in the Bay Area. "And if they have to ignore safety and regulations for innovation, then they will—and do."
But the cracks began to appear in the façade in 2016 and 2017, especially regarding Uber, and the media has steadily been waking up to the dirty underbelly of less regulated app companies posing as transportation providers. Compounding a very bad year, which included proven claims of sexual harassment and a frat-like working environment at its headquarters, Uber quickly scrambled for its PR life and ousted longtime CEO Travis Kalanick—but not before a #DeleteUber hashtag caught fire.
Buffo and the NLA Public Relations Committee, co-chaired by Solombrino and Jason Kaplan of The Driver Provider, have been working with EVINS Communications for the past three years to develop a multi-tiered strategy to combat TNCs in pursuit of a level playing field—and to have regulators take notice of the dangers that the riding public is subject to without one. The timing for this PSA, however, couldn't have been better as sexual harassment scandals have exploded across numerous industries, spurring the #MeToo movement.
"Pam deserves a lot of credit," said Kaplan. "We're not a huge conglomerate that's paying her tons of money to be a spokesperson. It's not about that. It's a personal and passionate cause for her, and she has gone above and beyond to take on this battle. She believes in this so strongly that she's become a better spokesperson than we could have ever hoped for."
While the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Solombrino, there has been some pushback that the PSA is "anti-driver" rather than an attempt to level a playing field for all. In fact, the NLA launched a summer 2017 partnership with nonprofit Jobs With Justice, to highlight the responsibilities that Uber and Lyft have shirked regarding their drivers—often leaving those drivers chasing trips far from their homes or working insane hours for a low payout. The Huffington Post took notice of that campaign and reported on it in August of last year.
"We are not anti-TNC just for the sake of competition ... that has nothing to do with it," said Kaplan. "We as an industry are regulated much more than they are and we all take training and passenger safety very seriously for anyone we put in a car driving our passengers. And none of that comes into play with TNCs."
Solombrino agreed: "We're on a mission to get fingerprinting and drug testing as a standard in all states for all TNC drivers. We're trying to elevate the level of consciousness of the general riding public. No sane person would ever get on an airplane if they didn't think that the FAA had drug testing requirements for pilots."
Aside from assaults and kidnappings, lax regulations have exposed several other potential issues with TNC drivers: legal recreational and medicinal marijuana use, and hours behind the wheel—which is strictly regulated in states like California.
"We had 22 Uber drivers apply at our company in a one-week period and 21 of them failed the drug test so we couldn't ever hire them," said Buffo. "They likely went right back to working for Uber. We're hearing of drivers who come in from Tracy—about two hours away—to work in San Francisco for four days, sleeping in their cars and working 20-hour days. We have a one-on-one relationship with the people we are interviewing and ultimately hiring, and that's why our industry—on a good day—hires maybe one out of nine people who apply. That's why we don't have the problems that TNCs have. Regulators haven't stopped going after this industry, and all we can do is continually educate the end-user about the differences between them and us."
Solombrino will host a one-on-one discussion with Anderson at the Las Vegas show, which he said is sure to garner lots of media attention for both the association and the cause.
The NLA is also working on another PSA that will be released later this spring, one that Solombrino says will hit on all the pillars that they think are important to get across to the riding public and regulators. He says that the next will ultimately build on what they have wanted to communicate so far.
"In 2017, we created and built upon the public's awareness of the downside of TNCs with EVINS' guidance. In 2018, we're making that impact. And now with the #MeToo movement, it's helped to make it a global issue where TNCs are a landscape that need to be examined and truly made safer for consumers," said Kaplan.
Visit rideresponsibly.org or limo.org for more information on the campaign. Visit youtube.com/watch?v=bb9ZxP4rgSk to view the latest PSA in its entirety. [CD0318]