A caravan of Uber and Lyft drivers rolled across the Brooklyn Bridge to Uber’s Manhattan headquarters Tuesday, demanding compensation for surging fuel costs, which drivers in New York City are shouldering on their own.
The coalition, with the group Justice for App Workers, argues that drivers’ take-home pay has shrunk as gas prices have spiked. Experts have linked the rising costs, in part, to the economic fallout of sanctions against Russia following the nation’s invasion of Ukraine. An average gallon of gas costs $4.34 — a fifty-cent increase from the average last month, according to the American Automobile Association.
Earlier this month, Uber and Lyft announced a new nationwide gas surcharge for customers of between $.45 and $.55 to help struggling drivers — but both companies deliberately carved out New York City drivers, citing a 2018 local law that mandated a minimum wage for drivers. A 5.3 percent rate increase as part of that law just went into effect in March. But drivers said the increase was needed to keep up with the price of inflation, and doesn’t do anything to address the recent spike in gas prices.
“Drivers cannot afford [to support] their families,” said Jahongir Ibadoa, a driver with UzBER, an association of Uzbeki Uber drivers, who said they’re now taking home about $70-80 a day, down from around $150. “We’re taking home less money. We cannot afford the family.”
The caravan followed a rally outside a Shell Station on the Upper East Side last week, where a group of taxi and app drivers called for a $.75 cent surcharge to cover the surge in gas prices for all app-based, yellow and black cab trips.
Spokespeople for Uber and Lyft pointed to the recent 5.3 percent rate increase when asked about the surge in gas prices.
“This is part of an annual raise tied to the rate of inflation — the only one mandated in the entire state,” said Uber spokesperson Freddi Goldstein.
City Comptroller Brad Lander, who as a Council member was one of the chief sponsors of the 2018 bill, said the app companies were being misleading about the law.
“There's nothing in NYC's law requiring fair pay for drivers that would prevent the company from instituting a surcharge to help defray rising fuel costs," he said Tuesday in an emailed statement. "Gas prices are rising everywhere, and NYC drivers shouldn't be penalized just because they organized for and won a minimum pay standard that all for-hire drivers deserve."
Outside Uber's offices at 3 World Trade Center, a handful of drivers ditched their cars and entered the lobby, demanding an Uber executive take their demands. Eventually a worker at the building agreed to bring their message upstairs.
Adrian Cruz, a driver with Uber for six years, said gas is now costing him about a quarter of his take-home pay.
“I'm spending less time at home with my family because I have to stay on the road a little bit more to kind of break even,” he said, adding he’d put on hold any prospect of a summer vacation.
Karen Mustiga, a spokesperson for Lyft said drivers are eligible for 4-5% cash back on gas purchases if they use a Lyft debit card and are eligible for certain tax breaks if they work as a for-hire driver, full time. The recent increase means drivers get an additional .5 cents a mile.
“Five cents is nothing,” Ibadoa said.
Other drivers said they’re pushing for app companies to decrease the cut they take from drivers. Uber’s website says it takes a 25 percent cut, but advocates say that rate is variable and is often higher than that.
“The surcharge is a temporary solution to [the] gas crisis,” said Naomi Ogutu, president of the NYC Rideshare Club, who wants Uber to reduce its cut from drivers to ten percent. “In this business the driver has to cover all the expenses.”