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Hundreds of Uber drivers striking over fare decrease

Uber drivers protest new fare cuts outside of

Uber drivers protest new fare cuts outside of the company's Long Island City office in Queens on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. Uber announced last week that it would be cutting rates by 15% in New York City. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Hundreds of angry Uber drivers said they were striking and rallied at the company’s Queens office over its recent fare decrease, saying the move is ruining their incomes.

Drivers waved dollar bills at the Jackson Avenue office, as well as homemade signs that said Uber had made billions but would leave them homeless, and even yelled expletives. They called for Uber to either reduce the commission it takes on each trip after slashing fares by 15% on Friday, or to restore the higher prices.

“It’s better for me to work at McDonald’s,” said Abdel Badiaa, a 29-year-old Uber driver from Bayonne, New Jersey. “This is terrible. I make $50 a day for 12 hours. Before, [about] $100.”

That amount is his take-home pay, after expenses like leasing a black car and gasoline. Badiaa said he would go back to driving a yellow cab after working for Uber for two months.

“This is the wrong thing I did with my life,” said Badiaa, who has a baby girl at home. “I have to go back, I can’t survive.”

Drivers said they had shut off Uber on their phones and some were considering unionizing. The New York Taxiworkers Alliance, which includes both yellow cabbies and Uber drivers, helped organize the rally.

Uber, which says it has about 35,000 drivers, lowered its pricing in New York City Friday for all of its services. UberX, its cheapest option for solo riders, cut its base fare from $3 to $2.55 and the minimum fare from $8 to $7. The cost per minute also went from $0.40 to $0.35 and the cost per mile from $2.15 to $1.75.

An Uber spokeswoman said that the drop in fares was made to get more people to use the service during the slower winter months. She said drivers aren’t suffering financially.

“Since the price cut, drivers have spent 39% less time between trips, which has increased average hourly earnings by 20% compared to two weekends before,” said spokeswoman Alix Anfang.

Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents some Uber drivers, scoffed at the service’s claim. She said she’s heard many stories from her members about the struggles they’ve had to face after just one weekend of reduction.

“Several thousand have lost a significant income and Uber doesn’t care,” she said.

Desai said she’s called for a virtual strike for 72 hours, beginning Monday, which would allow the drivers to pick up non-Uber users around the city through other apps. Farrukh Khamdamov, 26, of the Upper East Side said he knows about 100 of his fellow drivers who are participating.

“Hopefully, [the] Uber CEO will wake up and see that drivers are not happy,” he said. “It will hurt my income for a couple days, but we are doing it for the long run.”

Another group, called the United Drivers Network, said it is trying to get 4,000 signatures to unionize Uber drivers.

Sarah Kaufman, the assistant director of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation, said it’s unclear if the virtual strike would significantly affect New Yorkers, due to the large number of on-demand taxi drivers and high demand for those services.

“There is a chance it might have an impact on the city, but New Yorkers have so many choices when it comes to transportation,” she said.


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