Ride or Die

While Talks with the TLC Stall Out, Uber Partners With HBO to Give New Yorkers a Free Ride in a Vintage Whip

Follow the freebies.
photo 7 1 While Talks with the TLC Stall Out, Uber Partners With HBO to Give New Yorkers a Free Ride in a Vintage Whip

(Photo: Uber)

Uber will not go gently into that good night. The request-a-ride app raged against New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission last week for putting a stop to its rogue mission to let New Yorkers hail and pay for a yellow cab with a few taps of their smartphone. Uber already offers the services for black cars and hybrid cars, but at a hefty premium.

To keep the company top of mind for New Yorkers, Uber is partnering with HBO today and tomorrow to promote the premiere of the third season of “Boardwalk Empire” this Sunday. The startup will be offering free rides in a fleet of vintage vehicles from the Roaring 20’s on September 13th and 14th. The offer is only available 11am to 6pm and only for up to three people travelling between Midtown and Soho in Manhattan. 

If it’s anything like the free yellow cab option Uber offered last week, good luck getting on board. We tried numerous times from Brooklyn and Manhattan, but got the same apologetic pop-up and text about the lack of drivers currently available.

Offering up these kind of free gimmicks is the only way Uber can operate a taxi service in New York City right now. Last week, the TLC, which posted a smartphone RFP for yellow taxis earlier, essentially told Uber to slow its roll, reminding drivers that they will be penalized for violating city regulations regarding electronic hails.

The real roadblock, it seemed, was over credit card processing related to the TLC’s exclusive contracts with vendors like Verifone and Creative Mobile Technologies. The contracts expire next February and the TLC plans on going ahead with its smartphone RFP.

Although Uber CEO Travis Kalanick couched it as a moral imperative for innovation, Uber’s sudden urgency may have had more to do with a British competitor, Hailo–hot on their trail to New York City’s taxi market. While medallion owners, livery cabs, and even politicians take issue with the politics of e-hailing–imagine smartphone-less riders standing on a street corner, not understanding why that cab just rode by–the TLC told Betabeat that Uber could continue to offer what sounds like an outlaw taxi function, if the service was free.

The tagline for the HBO campaign? “Uber is going Gangster in NYC!” Sounds about right.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com