Uber and Lyft drivers want the city to raise their pay rates to keep up with soaring inflation and increased costs of gas.
Drivers and the union New York Taxi Workers Alliance rallied outside City Hall Tuesday as the city’s regulatory agency overseeing the for-hire vehicles and taxi cab industry, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, held a hearing on pay raises.
“The labor of New York City Uber and Lyft drivers is what is bankrolling Uber and Lyft across this country,” said the Alliance’s President Bhairavi Desai on May 24. “It’s about time that the labor is paid for and that labor is respected and that labor is valued.”
The union, which Desai said represents about 25,000 drivers, more than half of whom work for the ride-hail app companies, wants the TLC to raise its rates so that drivers’ pay is at least $25 an hour after expenses or 85% of what a passenger pays — whichever is higher.
The TLC enacted a minimum rate in 2018 that Uber and Lyft pay their drivers for each trip based on miles and minutes traveled, and Desai estimated that drivers make less than $18 an hour at current levels.
“We are not leaving these streets until we win a dignified raise, until every single driver is able to take home $25 per hour after expenses,” she said. “The money is there, it is long overdue to the drivers.”
Mayor Eric Adams raised the rates by 5.3% starting March in line with the rise of the Consumer Price Index in New York between 2019 and 2021, but runaway inflation and gas costs mean that drivers are struggling to make ends meet.
“Everything has gotten so expensive,” said Dolores Benitez, who drove a yellow cab for 30 years before switching to Uber in 2014.
Benitez said she has to also shell out for car repairs, gas, and cleaning the vehicle, along with tolls, which she gets back afterward but can be a steep upfront cost.
“One night you put $100 [for tolls] before you go and make a dollar,” she said.
Gas prices in the New York metropolitan area averaged $5.02 per gallon Tuesday, a record number that was up almost 60% from a year ago when the cost at the pump was $3.2, according to the American Automobile Association.
The March rate hike didn’t account for the added costs for professional drivers like Benitez, according to a lawyer for the Taxi Workers Alliance.
“Household expenses — groceries, rent, clothing — went up 5.3%, but cost of a car in the last year, vehicle expenses of a new car, went up 12.2%, fuel went up 65% just in one year,” Zubin Soleimany said during TLC’s Tuesday hearing. “This is so completely divorced from cost of groceries and so much more significant, that needs to be accounted for separately.”
“TLC needs to completely reassess what the costs in the industry are when setting a new baseline rate for vehicle expenses,” Soleimany added.
The regulatory agency should cap costs of leasing a vehicle for for-hire vehicles, as it already does with yellow cabs, the attorney said.
“The TLC doesn’t allow anybody to charge more than $275 a week for a yellow Toyota Camry. It’s illegal, they will be fined, they will lose their license,” Soleimany said. “Somehow though the TLC throws up its hands when companies are charging $525 a week for a Camry because it’s black.”
The union demanded the TLC institute an immediate temporary 75c surcharge per trip to make up for the high prices, which Uber and Lyft have instituted in other cities, but not in the Big Apple.
The TLC will also look at whether to raise taximeter fares for the first time in a decade.
“TLC is committed to a strong recovery for drivers and the industry, so we are looking for bold ideas and a robust public review process on taxi fares and driver pay, beginning with our public hearings,” said TLC Acting Commissioner Ryan Wanttaja in a statement. “We appreciate the ideas that have already been brought to the table and we will be evaluating all options as our review proceeds.”
An Uber spokesperson noted the March rate increase and the fact that for-hire vehicle drivers have seen more recent pay bumps than taxis.
“Since February of 2019, NYC has mandated 3 wage increases for Uber drivers, including a 5.3% increase in March of 2022,” said Uber spokesperson Josh Gold in a statement. “FHV drivers in NYC have the only minimum wage in the state with a yearly cost of living increase tied to the rate of inflation and now make $31.74 an hour while taxi drivers have not seen an increase since 2012.”
A Lyft spokesperson pointed to their drivers’ earnings being above numbers in 2021, adding that Lyft Direct debit cards offer 4-5% cash back on gas through the end of June.
“TLC-licensed drivers averaged more than 25% above the minimum pay standard in 2021, and it continues to be a great time to drive with Lyft,” said CJ Macklin in a statement. “We look forward to working with the TLC and its new leadership on ways to protect driver earnings while ensuring the ability to achieve our shared goals.”