Thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers drove in a slow protest caravan in New York City today asking for stronger legal protections, just a week after California passed a bill that could reclassify those “independent contractor” drivers as real employees. An opportune time to hear from the more than 100 rideshare drivers who wrote to us about their working conditions!
Earlier in September we ran the first installment of thoughts from Uber and Lyft drivers who wrote in to tell us about their jobs, how they are treated by the companies, and how the bill that would make them employees might change their lives. Another sample of these emails is below. They have been lightly edited for capitalization and punctuation.
Well I started in 2015 I was in the middle of a change of career paths I really didn’t know what I was going to do at the time. I had a few friends that were already doing this new exciting rideshare opportunity and telling me how much money they were making. It took a while to resonate because like many others I’m sure I don’t know what to really make of it because it was still something very fresh and brand new. Obviously with no other options at the time I decided to use my car that I had at the time to give it a test. I started to realize that I was making at least 25 bucks an hour driving all day and not really having to deal with the night crowd which is something I have avoided even till this day. After a few months I decided to buy a new car to make a worthy investment into this opportunity that way you can assure me less maintenance on a new car. After a year so that’s when the beginning of the end was starting. I had heard how much drivers were making well before me and I started to realize what I was making even though it was still great money at the time that this down train was definitely headed on its way down. They started with this new feature called Lyft line meanwhile Uber had their UberPool. It took me a while to realize that I was actually losing time and money. Not by much but I did notice a slight difference then came a pay cut in our mile and minute charges to the passenger. Not even six months after that they changed how the bonus structure was taken care of what used to be an hourly situation where if the driver drove at least 40 hours I believe or if not 50 hours we would be able to keep the whole 20% that the company took out for every ride. They change that for the number of rides completed at the time it was a very nominal amount of something like 60 rides but that ballooned all the way up to what is now 165 rides. Along that way I started to realize that when I was making it 50-60 hours was now closer to 80-90 hours. And that was the schedule for the next couple of years. Fast forward maybe a year and a half ago I started to notice that they were now messing with the prime time and surge opportunities that drivers were once afforded. Obviously this is the increased price that is either fabricated off of their history data that they have accumulated or obviously there are less drivers and more passengers...
About the time that they change the bonus structure from takeoff the 20% back to the dollar figure I started to realize that I was not going to be able to cover my bills at which point I had to file bankruptcy and fast forward two it is now call in my car my home so to say that I practically live in my car is an understatement as I drive all day and then I sleep in the backseat.
For the first couple years I was making close to $2000 a week and now today I am hoping to make $1000 a week and this is obviously before all the expenses to the car and cell phone and stuff of that nature... At this point my car that I bought to do this is now sitting above 250,000 miles and I am not too far away from 25,000 rides but I do less rides at this point because I’m avoiding getting jacked from this company it’s rather demoralizing I feel bad for the new drivers who join you don’t really know what’s really going on.
Uber is not like Airbnb
I am a driver. The way that Uber lobbied for the independent contractor status is evident in court cases where their legal argument was forcefully pushed. “We are just like eBay and Airbnb. We are a free market place and all we do is connect drivers to passengers.“
This is not true!
Both eBay and Airbnb providers enjoy a real free marketplace. I know because my daughter sells on eBay. She sets her own prices and she understands the scope of each of her customers’ needs. I’ve also driven an Airbnb provider who is very happy with the service that Airbnb provides. The core element of her success is that she sets her own rates for her services and she negotiates with each of her customers regarding the length of each project she facilitates.
It makes me sick to my stomach that, once Uber won the classification of independent contractor, By claiming to be just like eBay and Airbnb, they turn around and, without telling the judges who granted the independent contractor classification, fixes rates across the board and denies the drivers the opportunity to know the full scope of each project by withholding passenger destinations, and then punishing a driver if the driver finds out the destinations personally from the passenger and then cancels.
I believe that, if this information was brought to light and debated in the public, both drivers and passengers would vote To kick Uber out of private negotiations between service provider and customer.
Wasn’t meant to sustain anyone
I did Lyft for 4 years before they ultimately reduced the rates to the point where it became a real grind to make ends meet. I quit my job to work with lyft while going to college and I felt it was an amazing experience. When my life (bills) started depending more and more in these rides I decided to leave it behind because it wasn’t cost effective for myself and my vehicle. The only way it works well is if you stick to driving Black and XL or Lux. Eventually most of those people would gain TCP licensing and start their own private transportation business with personal and private clients. As for me I decided to move away from it but and stick to working for DoorDash, Postmates and gig economy like Amazon that didn’t have us working directly with customers. This bill might affect all this too. Ultimately I’m against AB5 because people like I did at some point relied on this gig economy to sustain me but it wasn’t ever made to sustain anyone. The “be your own boss” definitely throws you off. Living off gig economy is crazy! But I think it’s also important to have. If this passes, and I wanna give a couple rides a week for gas money I can’t because i need to apply for another job? Makes no sense.
Hard times in Houston
I am an Uber/Lyft Driver in the Houston area. We in the Houston area have drivers just making 2 dollars per trip in some cases. That is not right at all. According to Uber and Lyft Houston is one of the most competitive markets and they can’t afford to pay drivers more. There is some days I am logged in for more than 8 hours I taken 4 trips and only made $12.80. this is ridiculous. Uber and Lyft are taking well over 70% of the shorter rides which is a direct violation with the contract I have with them. Furthermore being a contractor with them I should be able to set my minimum rate and minimum amount I make as a driver however they don’t give us that control as in reality we should be employees as we have no control of the number of rides we get nor control over the rate. The Houston area is horrible in regards to driver pay. We shouldn’t make anything less than 15 dollars per trip. Yet we get these $2 trips all the time and they are constantly in violation of the state and federal minimum wage laws. Uber and Lyft need to die as a company if they are not going to pay their drivers fairly. There are really no more taxis in the Houston area just Uber and Lyft and yet they still refuse to give their drivers a fair livable wage.
A driver’s detailed argument for regulation
I am from PA, near the main line and the King of Prussia mall. Began driving June of 2017, when I retired, looking for something to do with my free time, and earning drinking money. I am now a law student, preparing for my next career. Applying what I’ve learned in the classroom to the road, this dark road the two companies have developed is more than an interesting read...
The algorithmic management system in each, especially with Uber, penalizes drivers for performance that deviates from the rules. With Uber, drivers are tiered. New drivers are ahead of most if not all, and receive calls in abundance. During this time, a metric profile is built, which includes how long it takes them to answer the rings they do get, star ratings, cancelled rides, ignored rings, total earnings (including tips through the app) hours online, and much more. This metric profile is how they’re weighed against other veteran drivers, after the driver is no longer “new”. From this point, the percentage of remote rides sent to them is determined by their performance compared to others nearby. Generally, the app works to keep drivers within specific hourly earnings ($10-20), unless their performance deviates them from the group near them. A driver who sees fewer calls, also faces disciplinary action in the form of retraining or suspension if their performance doesn’t improve and termination after that. Again, these are all averages. Drivers will see better or worse earning days, but my readings have taught me this much. Lyft works similarly but on a more primitive scale. So, in summary, Drivers are lured by very promising (but misleading) ads to earn amounts theyll only reach for a short time, at whatever schedule they want, only to have to climb a long uphill battle to get out.
In my observation, Drivers are generally divided on the “good money” issue for one of 3 reasons.
First, many Drivers have not been educated on calculating expenses. My approach uses the IRS’ determination that it costs 55c a mile to own a car. Lyft/Uber drivers in my area are paid 67c per mile and 24c per minute, ONLY when a passenger is in the car. If the driver keeps the car moving with a passenger, they earn 91c total per mile. If in traffic, only the minute rate, until the car is moving. Factor the IRS allowance and the driver is netting 37c per mile (91c - 55c) as long as they have a passenger, assuming that algorithm determines they should have one. There are other approaches but this is what I use.
The second dividing factor is some drivers prefer not to calculate their net earnings, as the gross receipts are “good money”. As a business owner/contractor, determining a business’s health, without balancing expenses is disastrous.
Third, some drivers see the company taking advantage of the division among drivers and the dark atmosphere and simply elect to leave (assuming they can).
Other drivers have explained the surge system already, where both companies take an average of 50-60% of each fare collected.
Also, the complaint system has created a culture of abusive passengers, who want free rides. Riders have learned that certain complaints will net them free rides from the company, usually getting the driver suspended for a 24 hour minimum standard. Passengers are not asked to support their complaints with any evidence. In all of the complaint scenarios, drivers are asked to respond to the company, to fulfill the report, but generally the reply isnt used for anything more than documentation. There isnt a defense to most complaints (including a “suspicion” of drugs or alcohol use), and it is added to the metric profile, weighing on future ride volume. Both companies say they arent disciplining the driver for most instances, but only noting it, as a contractor, so the driver may learn what customers like and dont like.
Everything about the Uber/Lyft platforms is not fair to the driver. There are so many issues that outright cheat drivers out of fair pay.
Take for example Uber pool. Uber pool was presented to drivers as a way to make more by reaching an incentive goal quicker. An example of that incentive would be, “drive 100 rides and get a bonus of $350.” The promo was that taking Uber pool would get you to that incentive a lot faster because you’re guaranteed up to 3 riders. Uber pool prices are so low in most cases you’d drive up to 45minutes dropping off those 3 riders and only make about $12, most of us didn’t care that it took that long to only make $12 because we had our eye on the big bonus and we made that bonus week after week. Now; that bonus has disappeared but Uber Pool still exists. With AB5 we get to ask questions like why is pool still available while the incentives are non existent...
So for those who think their flexibility is important, ask yourself if transparency is important too.
We make them successful
I am a Lyft driver in Columbus, Ohio. Ist of all Lyft and Uber need to know that we the drivers makes them successfully in their business. We buy our own cars, pay for gas, pay for all the maintenance and insurance but still they make more money in a ride request than the driver himself. Uber and Lyft gives u the driver no benefits or assistance in anyway. If a damage occurs to ur vehicle in a ride request it takes them forever to solve the problem. There should be no reason why Uber and Lyft should make more money than the driver because drivers are the one that does all the expense. I suggest they pay drivers for the pick ups too not just when the rider is in the vehicle. They should consider us as employees and give drivers employee benefits.
We need fewer drivers
I’ve only been driving for Uber for about two-and-a-half 3 months. I’m renting a car through Fair which costs $200 a week. When you add the gas cost to that it’s very difficult to make any money. I’m 73 years old and there’s not many people who want to hire somebody my age. I get a little social security, but in order to pay for the car and the gas and have something left over I would probably have to drive 7 days a week. If becoming an employee means an actual living wage I’m all for it as I’m writing this I’m sitting waiting for a ride to be presented to me. I have been sitting here for over an hour. Uber floods whatever market it has with so many drivers that we can’t make any money. Obviously, if they have to consider us employees they would have to trim their staff. Then maybe I could finally make some money.
I don’t care about flexibility. I want to be able to feed my family.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in.