College basketball fans are confronting two things in Buffalo that wouldn't rise to the top of anyone's travel wish list: a winter storm and no ride-hailing service.
Fans arriving here for this week's NCAA tournament games likely knew snow could hit Buffalo in March. But they might be surprised when they fire up their Uber or Lyft apps and they can't get service.
In response, Uber is launching an advertising campaign, #UberMadness, with a TV ad, digital ad and website meant to leverage annoyed basketball fans as a lobbying force.
Buffalo is the largest city in the country that doesn't have ride-hailing service. All eight cities represented by the schools coming to Buffalo for games Thursday and Saturday – they include Philadelphia and the college towns of Princeton, N.J.; Madison, Wis.; and Blacksburg, Va. – have Uber service, according to a company spokeswoman.
Ride-hailing is legal in New York City, but not the rest of the state. Efforts to expand the service to the rest of New York have failed in past legislative sessions. Representatives of the taxi industry, for one, have fiercely opposed expanding ride-hailing.
When visitors open their Uber app in Buffalo between Wednesday and Sunday, they'll get an email prompting them to send a tweet using #UberMadness to tell lawmakers in Albany that Western New Yorkers deserve ride-hailing services.
“The fact that visitors and residents can’t use Uber to get to the games is pure madness,” Josh Mohrer, general manager for Uber Tri-State, said in a statement.
Uber's ad, which will air on broadcast and cable TV in Western New York, is leavened with basketball puns.
"So, while players can’t travel on the court, fans are going to find it pretty hard to travel off it," the ad reads, followed by, "Let’s tell Albany, the ball’s in their court."
Organizers of the NCAA tournament in Buffalo have recognized visiting fans will seek out ride-hailing services and lament their absence.
They have worked with local taxi companies to find a solution. During the tournament, users can call a licensed cab through the Curb app. There also will be a dedicated drop-off and pick-up location, at Prime and Hanover streets, about a block west of the KeyBank Center, for cabs serving fans attending NCAA games there.
The Upstate Transportation Association, which represents the taxi industry, said the ad campaign fails to mention Uber's recent spate of problems: sexual harassment allegations lodged by a former employee, a tirade directed by CEO Travis Kalanick against an Uber driver and, notably, the New York Times report this month of a technology called "Greyball" used to evade local authorities in cities that were cracking down on ride-hailing services.
"Let’s stop speculating about how Uber will fare in the state budget and start asking why it’s taking so long for New York officials to investigate the Greyball program, which Uber used for years to undermine law enforcement and operate illegally," said John Tomassi, the association's president.