“It was definitely much better when I started as a driver three years ago,” said Jay, a 42-year old full time Uber driver based in Brooklyn. Having heard about the internal struggles Uber has been having lately within their leadership as well as with drivers revolting and protesting unfair labor practices, I was curious about what individual drivers think about how they are treated by Uber. As Jay and I weaved through the thick traffic on Atlantic Avenue, I asked him about his experiences as a driver, and if he felt like he was being treated fairly. “I guess the first problem I had with Uber was when they raised their cut of the ride cost to 25%. No one ever explained to us that it was happening or why it was happening, I just started to see less money on my payouts. And what’s even crazier is that for some reason, they put the full amount of the fare on my pay stub, which makes it difficult and confusing come tax time.”
Drivers for ride hail apps like Uber and Lyft are considered independent contractors. They receive no benefits or access to health care and are responsible for claiming their own taxes. Over the past few years, there has been a heavy backlash from these drivers for unfair treatment and the poor practices. Earlier this year, Uber settled a lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission for $20 million over claims that Uber lied about earning potential for prospective drivers and also facilitated predatory car leasing programs from which Uber profited directly.
“I was lucky enough to own my own car, but I know friends and family members who got roped into a crappy lease through Uber directly. I remember my younger brother signing up to be an Uber driver with much excitement. He read some of their recruitment ads and was under the impression that he could make upwards of $90,000 per year, so he agreed to lease a car through one of Uber’s preferred dealers. He soon realized that not only was he making far less than he was promised, he was now stuck with this lease that had him locked into an interest rate that was significantly higher than the market average. I get that they don’t have to take care of us drivers because we are not technically employees, but to prey on a young man who wanted to do what he could to make a decent income is simply greed hard at work.”
Traditional chauffeured services and taxi cabs have seen a sharp decrease in business since ride hail apps have completely disrupted the market. The bottom line is the price point: the ride hail apps are able to get a passenger to their destination at a significantly lower price than car services and taxi cabs. However, as Uber’s unfair labor practices and downright exploitation of its drivers come to light, it becomes abundantly clear that ride hail apps cut prices on the backs of their drivers.
I reached out to several car service providers in hopes of speaking to a driver employed by one of these companies. Traditionally, car service providers employ their drivers and strictly adhere to labor laws. They receive benefits and often a 401k and pension. I had the opportunity to speak to Kevin from Driver Provider, a veteran driver who has been driving professionally before these apps were even a thought.
“My company has my back,” Kevin shared, as we spoke about what it was like to be employed by a traditional chauffeured car service. I learned from Kevin that he not only receives benefits, a fair wage with regular raises, and expense reimbursement, he also has access to roadside services through the company. “I remember breaking down once with a client in the car. Within a short time, my company had dispatched a new car and driver as well as a tow truck and a ride for me to safely get back to the office. I know if I was a driver for Uber or something like that, I would have been screwed.”
Kevin has been in the business long enough to watch the decline of his business in light of ride hail apps snagging much of the consumer market. “It’s a real shame on all sides. They [ride hail apps] are able to keep their prices so low because they don’t need to operate at the same standard that traditional car services do. These low prices that everyone seems to love so much are due to the fact that they can cut corners and essentially rob their drivers. Ultimately, as standards decrease and best practices are overlooked, it becomes a safety issue for riders.”
Perhaps we should start to think about the car service industry in the same way we think about apparel and food, and become okay with the idea of paying a few extra bucks in the interest of human decency. Many of us choose to overlook low prices in the interest of not supporting unfair labor and business practices, with the intention of eradicating child labor and brutal treatment of animals. So while we enjoy the low cost of ride hail services, we must understand that these low prices are the direct result of extortion, poor treatment, and not maintaining a high standard of quality. Knowing what we know about Uber’s failure to properly consider passenger safety as well as its subpar and often predatory treatment of drivers, why do we continue to fuel the company by using the app?