On May 8th, 2019, “Flame Wars” was at its peak across the Internet. When Uber decided to publicly trade on Wall Street, drivers in major cities like New York, Chicago, and L.A., called upon the nation and the world to go on strike on the exact same day of Uber’s debut on the stock market. This was coordinated to influence the IPO opening price of Uber’s stock. The hopes were to show Uber that the drivers are tired of low wages, as well as many other things.
They rallied up the drivers, spreading the word on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. However, there were differences of opinions right from the gate. Not every driver was ready to call in for a strike.
Some fear of being deactivated, didn’t believe in the strike, or simply didn’t care. Others saw this as an opportunity to cash in with fewer drivers on the road. Whatever their reasons were, they began causing a divide amongst drivers.
Why Go On Strike?
View this post on Instagram
REMINDER: Uber and Lyft drivers are on strike today. They deserve a living wage and benefits. Respect workers as they fight for livable conditions and dignity. Don’t cross the picket line. #uberstrike #LyftStrike #UberLyftStrike #strike #workersrights #standupfightback #uber #lyft #publictransit
Drivers from both ridesharing companies have been aggravated over the last few years. There was a time, long before I started driving, that drivers could easily go out and make a few hundred dollars in a matter of a few hours. Those days are long gone. Uber and Lyft have both been constantly cutting back fare rates. I know in my city, San Antonio, the current rates for both Lyft and Uber are around 62 cents a mile for X. Moreover, it isn’t just X that has been suffering rate cuts. XL and Select (Lux for Lyft) have been cut too.
For example, in 2016, San Antonio drivers get paid $1.79 p/mile with Uber X. That is over a dollar cut total compared with today’s current rate. This is a drastic cut where the drivers suffer the most, especially when they have to keep gas in their vehicle, which is ever so much increasing.
It isn’t just the cost of gas that drivers are looking at. They also have to consider other costs like insurance, car payments, vehicle maintenance, taxes, and car depreciation. Because they’re driving so many miles, they are regularly replacing brakes, changing tires, and doing more frequent oil changes. In two months, I personally have put in over 8,000 miles on my car due to rideshare.
The Percentage is Changing
Drivers, specifically those who drive for Uber, have noticed that the percentage Uber takes has increased over time. Hear me clear on this. I am not saying that Uber is taking more of the money for themselves out of the current rate of 62 cents per mile.
What I am pointing out is that the customer pays “X” amount, the driver earns their 62 cents a mile plus their 10 cents a minute for the ride. But over time, Uber is getting a higher fare rate. In the past, Uber would usually take about 20% of the total cost the customer paid for the ride. The remaining 80% goes to the driver.
What is happening now is that Uber is taking anywhere from 40% to 60%. At first, this doesn’t mean much because the driver is still earning what is stated on their rate cards — 62 cents per mile and 10 cents per minute. However, when you take a closer look, you’ll see that Uber is charging their customers more but the driver’s rates are not increasing.
Smaller Issues Add Up
Smaller issues like cancellation fees and cleaning costs could add up and significantly affect drivers. Normally, when a customer cancels their ride after 5 minutes or if the driver has to cancel due to a no show, Uber charges the customer $5, which goes to the driver. Recently, this is no longer the case. Uber has been keeping some of this $5 for themselves instead of forwarding the entire cancellation fee to the driver.
Uber and Lyft both have cut back on cleaning fees. It used to be a flat rate depending on the type of mess or damage, and how bad it was (up to $150). Drivers from both companies have reported problems with obtaining these cleaning fees recently. They’ve been getting lower cleaning rates than what they expected. They also need to present proof of cleaning by a record of receipt.
Then Why Not Strike?
Didn’t Believe in the Strike
Many drivers decided not to join the strike against Uber on this day. The majority of them didn’t participate because they simply did not believe in the strike. This is not to say that they don’t want higher paying fare rates.
A lot of the drivers who chose to strike were pushing for a minimum pay per hour, hiring freezes, insurance benefits, etc. None of this fits the “Independent Contractor Model.” In fact, these fit the model of an employee. One of the many reasons drivers choose to drive for Uber and/or Lyft is the ability to drive whenever they want to; turn the app on or off at leisure.
The fear is that if the strikers got what they wanted, they would also lose the ability to drive whenever they want and will have to be on a schedule of some sort. This limits the number of drivers to be out driving around at any one point during the day or night.
For some, there was a genuine fear of being deactivated by participating in the strike. While many argued on how either of the companies would know for sure if one participated in the strike or not. Honestly, if you think about it, all you have to do is check on social media to see who organized the strikes in each city, who said they would participate in the strikes, etc. Keep in mind that both of these companies have deactivated drivers in the past for less.
All it takes to get deactivated is just an accusation of illicit behavior. I personally would think that an attempt of creating a disturbance within the “rideshare” community as an illicit or unwanted behavior in Uber’s or Lyft’s eyes. We as drivers are unprotected from the acts of Uber and Lyft. For one, we are not employees. We also can’t depend on a union to fight for us and make sure that the rideshare companies wouldn’t retaliate against their drivers.
Loss of Money
Many drivers across the country — the world, even— drive to make money. Some drive for the extra cash or use rideshare as a transition to go from one job to the next. While others —and this is a big chunk of drivers— use rideshare as their main source of income. The loss of money, even for just a few hours, would have been too much for these drivers. While they may fully agree with the cause, they simply could not afford to take a loss, especially if this is their main source of income and are renting a vehicle through Uber or Lyft’s Express Program.
During the mudslinging over the Internet, non-strikers have been unjustly labeled. If you were a driver and not going on strike, you were greedy or don’t have any backbone. Yes, there may be a small group who did use this day as an opportunity to earn more with the mindset “There are fewer drivers, so it means more money.” Many drivers, however, had valid reasons for not joining the strike. The accusations made a big split between drivers on the day of the strike and the week that preceded the strike itself.
Of course, other than greed, there was one other type of driver out there. The type of driver that just doesn’t care. This type of driver knows it is only a matter of time before the rates would drop again, or drivers themselves become completely obsolete. Sounds like a storybook, a Sci-Fi show, or movie, huh? If you look around, it really isn’t too hard to believe.
Just look at factories, department stores, grocery stores, even fast food. Slowly, robots and computers are replacing the human workforce. Drivers are not safe from this advancement, as both Uber and Lyft have already tested driverless vehicles and the use of drones. The end game for both rideshare companies is to rid of the current necessary evil, “Rideshare Drivers”. Of course, drivers are safe, for the time being. As this technology is not without its flaws. Every day, these self-driving vehicles are improving. Once they have been perfected. Watch out, drivers will become obsolete for both of these Rideshare Apps.
The Independent Contractor
One of the biggest arguments of drivers who went on strike was that they think we are not “true” independent contractors. Their way of thinking is that independent contractors are able to set their own rates. This is only partially true. I myself have lots of experience with independent contractors contracts. I am a 3D Artist for both video games, TV, and film. So I deal with independent contracts all the time. While for the most part, you can negotiate your own terms and rates as independent contractors, it is not always the case. This is where some of the confusion begins.
What most unhappy drivers do not think about it is that your contract with Uber and/or Lyft is to provide a service to the rideshare customer base — not directly to the riders that occupy the driver’s vehicles. Unfortunately, drivers cannot set their own rates. Each time a driver turns on the app, they are agreeing to those terms set out in the contract between themselves and the rideshare app they are using. Drivers are able to walk away at any point in time, without fear of being penalized. This one little detail is what makes this contract different from most contracts for independent contractors.
The Start of the End
View this post on Instagram
May 8th, 2019 was the peak of the feud and the split between drivers caused by the strike at hand. The split started a few days beforehand. A few days after the 8th, there didn’t seem to be the same split between drivers. Everything went back to normal. The strike came and went. Nothing has seemed to change. Every single driver went back to how they were before the strike —whether they were for, against, or didn’t care about the strike. Every single driver went back to driving, still getting online and complaining about one thing or another.
All the problems that drivers were facing and complaining about are still present. Which actually may just be a good thing. If drivers for Uber and Lyft were classified as employees, what are some of the things that could have happened?
Most likely, there wouldn’t be a continuous set of drivers being added every day, saturating the driver market. We could have a minimum payout for each hour each driver would make. There would be health benefits. These are all great things. With the positive things that could happen, however, there could be some negative impacts as well. For example, a lot of drivers will have to be let go. Neither company could afford to keep all the drivers on board. I would also have to assume that drivers would no longer be able to choose what time they would start driving or when they would stop driving. I also wouldn’t doubt that drivers would be confined to certain grid areas of a city.
Where We Are Now
Even though none of these things came to past, we still have two major problems that all drivers have to face. One, the ever so decreasing rate that drivers are receiving for their fares. Two, drivers still have to deal with the inevitable fact that soon, they will be replaced with vehicles that drive themselves or these rideshare companies would declare bankruptcy and shut down. Either way, we as drivers, at some point, will soon cease to exist.
Really, the only two things you can do right now is to either (1) just deal with it and drive as much as possible to make money while you still can or (2) use your time as a rideshare driver to have a better understanding of the industry and what you could do differently for your own private driving business. I’m not saying that you can’t just snag customers from Uber or Lyft, as this is also against policy! But you could use your experience as your foundation in developing your own private driving business. If you truly want to be your own boss, this is the way to go.
Even though the current model of the rideshare business has created a rift among drivers, we should keep in mind that we are all in it together for the same reasons. We here to make money — whether it is our main source of income, a side hustle, or an in-between to make ends meet. It won’t last forever, and to be honest, it was never meant to last forever.