Hundreds of striking Uber drivers are planning to make bulk ride requests at 10 p.m. tonight, in the hopes of convincing as many drivers as possible to join them in protesting Uber as New Yorkers begin commuting home from bars and friends' apartments after the Super Bowl.
Groups of dozens of drivers are planning to position themselves in neighborhoods that tend to get many Uber requests—Williamsburg and Park Slope in Brooklyn, Midtown East and West, the West Village, Harlem, and Astoria in Queens, among others. Some drivers started targeting JFK and La Guardia around 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, and will shift their attention to these neighborhoods in a few hours, according to organizers.
Once a driver arrives for a supposed pickup, the striking group will pay the $7 minimum fare and urge him or her to turn off their app in solidarity, until 4 a.m. on Monday morning. By decreasing the number of drivers on the road, strike leaders hope to drive up surge pricing, and discourage some New Yorkers from requesting Ubers in the first place.
Tonight's plan of action was detailed at a rally on Sunday afternoon at Forest Park in Woodhaven, Queens. It culminates a week of organizing and rallying in response to Uber's decision to cut fare prices by 15% city-wide.
Hundreds of drivers—many of whom said they typically drive between 40 and 60 hours a week on the platform—gathered with signs that read, "Uber is turning its drivers homeless" and, "No drivers, no Uber."
Compared to the more than 30,000 Uber-affiliated drivers in NYC, the group assembled today was a drop in the bucket (Uber confirmed last week that a strike last Monday didn't register any reduction in service). Organizers stressed that their turnout was the result of a 24-hour push, and that some drivers had committed to the 4 p.m. shutdown, even though they couldn't attend the rally.
The drivers sent an open letter to the company on Thursday, voicing a set of demands:
We demand that the fares go back to the rates prior to the price cuts of the summer of 2014; whereas the minimum fare for UberX is $12. We also demand that Uber grant riders the option to tip their drivers if they so choose to. Lastly, we demand that all Black Car and SUV drivers be given the choice to accept or not accept UberX fares.
Uber NYC met with four driver representatives on Friday, but the drivers found the meeting unsatisfactory and rushed to organize tonight's strike, many of them canvasing Uber-heavy neighborhoods through the night on Saturday to raise awareness among fellow drivers.
According to the startup, which was recently valued at $62.5 billion, the motivation for this month's fare reduction is to decrease idling time for drivers who tend to experience a lag in trips after the onslaught of holiday tourists dies down. Three days after the new fares were instated, the company released data suggesting that idling time had decreased, and earnings had increase.
But many Uber drivers took to Facebook last week, stating that their earnings had actually dipped. Some say they've had to work longer hours for less pay, often taking passengers on extremely short trips in succession. Uber takes a 20-25% commission on each ride. Many drivers leased their cars through the company, and pay hundreds each month in leasing fees, not to mention car insurance, tolls, and their own coffee and meals during each shift.
"We're willing to pay the $7 out of pocket," said driver Muhammad Lo, detailing tonight's strategy. "The time I spent here [at the rally] I could have made $50. But investing $5 or $10 to tell other drivers that we're not willing to work, that everybody's joining together to strike, is worth it. I'm willing to lose even a whole week of work just so that other drivers can unite."
The organizers from today's strike have urged drivers across the platform to join the newly-formed Uber Drivers Network, which will allow the group to communicate privately and share updates quickly, via text-message.
Until demands are met, the group says that it will strike for 24 hours per week, a different day each week, in the hopes of throwing Uber for a loop.
Reached for comment, an Uber spokesman confirmed that the company had met with several driver groups in the last week. "At Uber we've worked hard to create a great service for partners, where they can earn money on their own terms," he stated. "Of course there's always more we can do—and we are always happy to talk with drivers about what they'd like to see next."
UPDATE: Striking Uber drivers and their supporters took to Twitter Sunday night, posting screenshots of the app showing large swaths of red to indicate surge pricing, as well as significant wait times at JFK and La Guardia airports (at 11:00 p.m., for example, the wait time for an UberX at JFK was 72 minutes). According to the drivers, the slow-down was a direct result of their efforts.
— UBER DRIVERS NETWORK (@uberdriversnetw) February 8, 2016
— Farrukh Khamdamov (@khamdamovtj) February 8, 2016
Reached for comment on Monday morning, a spokesman for the company denied that the strike had any impact, citing an e-mail sent to drivers shortly before midnight on Sunday stating that service yesterday "broke the record for most trips ever on a Sunday."
Uber did confirm that there was surge pricing before and after the Super Bowl, attributing it to typical demand surrounding large cultural events. As for the airports, the spokesman said that wait times were not longer than usual. According to Uber, wait times tend to be longer on Sunday nights due to a higher concentration of arriving flights.
Still, organizers expressed satisfaction with last night's effort. "24 hour notice and 15,000 flyers around the city worked!" wrote one organizer in a Facebook message to Gothamist last Sunday night. "A drop in bucket... made a difference today!"