New York, NY — Today, Uber announced the company would start manipulating access to its app for New York City drivers, in a move that violates the intent of the city’s pay rules, including blocking access to the app for some drivers and requiring them to drive to areas with more demand in order to log on. The company announced this new policy in an email to drivers today and claimed it was in response to the city’s TLC regulations and “the response from other companies, such as Lyft.” The move follows similar action by Lyft and months of complaints from the Independent Drivers Guild calling for the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to take enforcement action to block such actions as violations of the city’s pay rules. The app company actions are expected to reduce pay by failing to track all of the drivers’ working time and reducing opportunities to work as well as limiting the ability of drivers to decide where and when to work.
“The app companies are stomping all over the city’s rules and the Taxi and Limousine Commission is doing nothing to stop them. This is exactly what we told the TLC would happen,” said Brendan Sexton, Executive Director of the IDG, a Machinists Union affiliate which represents and advocates for more than 80k app based drivers in NYC. “For months we warned that if the city failed to take enforcement action against Lyft for flouting the spirit of the pay rules, that the other apps would follow suit and drivers’ pay would suffer. Already thousands of drivers are struggling to pay their bills because Lyft is blocking them from the app. Now 80,000 New York City families will pay the price because the TLC refused to stand up for drivers and crackdown on the app companies.”
Over 100 IDG members gathered at City Hall earlier this week to call for the city to abolish the TLC due to its failure to stand up for drivers, including on this issue of enforcing the pay rules. The Guild also called for a Drivers’ Bill of Rights this week, which specifically included blocking apps from trying to get around the pay rules. IDG specifically called for TLC enforcement action for months to prevent this from happening, starting with a letter in June: https://drivingguild.org/2019/06/21/letter-to-tlc/ . IDG also testified about this issue at a TLC hearing in July, calling attention to the fact that Lyft was using this policy to further enrich the company by giving preferential access to drivers who pay them upwards of $400 per week to rent a vehicle from Lyft’s Express Drive program. IDG also testified on this at a City Hall rally and City Council hearing this week, including testimony and screenshots from IDG member and Lyft driver Tina Raveneau, showing that she was blocked from the Lyft app for all but a four hour shift 5am-9pm Monday through Thursday, a shift that does not even work for her as a single mother of a school-aged child. The TLC failed to act and failed to include any further regulatory guidance during its summer rulemaking, despite having the clear opportunity to do so.
In the Commission’s statement of basis and purpose for the pay rules, it clearly states that these rules establish a minimum per-trip payment formula that takes into account “drivers’ total working time, both time spent driving passengers as well as time waiting for a dispatch and then traveling to pick up passengers.” Drivers are paid by mile and minute rates which are determined using a utilization rate which works as a multiplier so that drivers are compensated for the minutes and miles with and without a rider in the vehicle.
If an app company simply stops counting the miles and minutes when a driver is waiting for dispatch or traveling to their next pick up location by logging drivers out of the app, the company is not making dispatch more efficient. The drivers are still driving those miles and waiting those minutes. But now those miles and minutes are not accounted for in the pay formula, so driver pay rates go down. If all of the drivers’ miles and minutes are not counted toward the utilization rate, it means drivers aren’t getting paid for those miles and minutes.
Given the competitive, race to the bottom nature of the high volume app-based for-hire vehicle services, we urge the Commission to take swift action to stop Lyft and any other app companies tempted to follow suit from enacting policies that manipulate access to the app in a way that would obscure and fail to account for the “drivers’ total working time, both time spent driving passengers as well as time waiting for a dispatch and then traveling to pick up passengers.”
Furthermore, we call on the commission and city leaders to switch the power dynamic that enables app companies to manipulate thousands of hard working drivers in our city. By limiting new TLC drivers’ licenses instead of limiting vehicles, the city can empower the more than 70,000 New Yorkers who drive for-hire vehicles for a living. Instead of having app companies kick excess drivers off their apps, companies would have to compete for workers with better pay or policies. Amending the cap policy in this way would also give workers the option of ownership rather than being beholden to predatory leasing companies.