Uber Will Block Drivers From Taking Riders When Business Is Slow

13 Sep 2019

Uber plans to follow Lyft’s lead in grappling with city rules and lock drivers out of its app at times and places with low demand.

Starting Tuesday, Uber will lock drivers out of its platform at times and locations that few riders are requesting trips, according the company, which emailed its Big Apple drivers about the change Friday afternoon.​

Uber is following Lyft’s lead in controlling its supply of cars in response to the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s rules setting a pay floor for drivers based on how much time they spend carrying passengers. Both companies blame the city for forcing them to limit when drivers work.

“Time and again we’ve seen Mayor (Bill) de Blasio’s TLC pass arbitrary and politically-driven rules that have unintended consequences for drivers and riders — despite objections from City Councilmembers, transportation experts, editorial boards and community groups,” Uber spokesperson Harry Hartfield said in a statement.

Uber’s new limits are similar to a scheme that Lyft implemented over the summer. Drivers who try to open their app when and where demand is lagging will be told that they are unable to drive, the company says.

Those who use wheelchair-accessible vehicles will be exempt from the restrictions, as will those with the top status in Uber’s driver rewards program, the company said.

A map showing where demand is the highest will allow drivers to travel to other parts of the city to have a better shot of getting work, Uber says. Drivers will also be offered a time slot when they will be guaranteed the ability to log on — a feature that Uber says distinguishes its system from Lyft’s.

Uber says it was forced to make the change because its platform was flooded with drivers who opened its app after being shut out of Lyft’s. That hurt its utilization rate, the measure of how much time drivers spend actually carrying passengers that serves as the basis for the city’s minimum pay rules, Uber said. The rules aim to ensure that drivers make $17.22 an hour after expenses.

Uber’s change will further harm drivers’ ability to make money in a notoriously difficult industry, according to Corona Uber driver Aziz Bah.

Bah used to drive for both Uber and Lyft but stopped working for the latter after the demand restrictions repeatedly locked him out of the app, he said. Now his Lyft income of $500 to $600 a week is gone and his Uber earnings have dropped because of the glut of drivers on that platform, Bah said.

Limiting when drivers can work also compromises the flexibility that drew many of them into the industry, said Bah, who is also a steward for the Independent Drivers Guild, a labor group for app-based drivers. The guild raised concerns about Lyft’s restrictions in a June letter to the TLC.

“Some people quit their nine-to-five jobs in order to have this flexibility that the industry gave them,” Bah said. “… All of a sudden it’s being taken away.”

Both Uber and Lyft argue that the restrictions are a result of the TLC’s rules, which Lyft unsuccessfully sued over earlier this year.

Acting TLC Commissioner Bill Heinzen defended the agency’s first-in-the-nation regulations, which came amid a landmark freeze on most new for-hire vehicles.

The firms spent years flooding the city’s streets with cars and should keep in mind that “drivers are crucial to their continued success,” Heinzen said.

“Until we took needed action last year, it has been Uber and Lyft’s business model to oversaturate the market while promising drivers that they could succeed despite these companies’ stacking the deck against them,” Heinzen said in a statement. “TLC and City Council put in place smart policies to address the problems these companies created, and they are finally being forced to experiment with ways to run their businesses in an environment of accountability.”