Uber and Lyft drivers push city to raise pay rates amid inflation and soaring gas prices

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Uber and Lyft drivers want the city to raise their pay rates to deal with soaring inflation and rising gas costs.

Drivers and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance union rallied outside City Hall on Tuesday as the city’s regulatory agency overseeing the rental vehicle and taxi industry, the Taxicab and Limousine Commission, held a hearing on salary increases.

“The work of New York’s Uber and Lyft drivers is what funds Uber and Lyft across the country,” Alliance President Bhairavi Desai said May 24. “It is time for work to be paid and for work to be respected and for work to be valued.”

The union, which Desai says represents about 25,000 drivers, more than half of whom work for ride-hail app companies, wants the TLC to raise fares so drivers pay at least $25. $ per hour after expenses or 85% of what a passenger pays – whichever is greater.

The TLC adopted a minimum rate in 2018 whereby Uber and Lyft pay their drivers for each ride based on miles and minutes traveled, and Desai estimated drivers earn less than $18 an hour at current levels.

“We won’t get off these streets until we get a worthy raise, until every driver can take home $25 an hour after expenses,” she said. “The money is there, it’s been long overdue by the drivers.”

New York Taxi Workers Alliance President Bhairavi Desai gathers with Uber and Lyft drivers outside City Hall on May 24.Photo by Kevin Duggan

Mayor Eric Adams raised rates by 5.3% starting in March, in line with New York’s consumer price index rising between 2019 and 2021, but runaway inflation and the costs of gasoline mean drivers struggle 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 also has to pay for car repairs, gas and vehicle cleaning, and tolls, which she recovers later but can be a high upfront cost.

“One night you put $100 [for tolls] before you go earn a dollar,” she said.

Gasoline prices in the New York metro area averaged $5.02 a gallon on Tuesday, a record number up nearly 60% from a year ago when the cost at the pump was $3.2, according to the American Automobile Association.

March’s fare hike did not take into account additional costs for professional drivers like Benitez, according to a lawyer for the Taxi Workers Alliance.

“Household expenses – groceries, rent, clothing – have increased by 5.3%, but the cost of a car over the past year, expenses for a new vehicle, have increased by 12.2%, fuel is up 65% in just one year,” Zubin Soleimany said during Tuesday’s TLC hearing. “This is so completely separate from the cost of groceries and so much more important, it needs to be accounted for separately.”

“TLC needs to completely reassess costs in the industry when setting a new benchmark rate for vehicle expenses,” Soleimany added.

The regulator should cap vehicle rental costs for rental vehicles, as it already does with yellow cabs, the lawyer said.

“TLC does not allow anyone to charge more than $275 per week for a yellow Toyota Camry. It’s illegal, they will be fined, they will lose their license,” Soleimany said. “Somehow the TLC gives up when companies charge $525 a week for a Camry because it’s black.”

The union demanded that TLC institute an immediate temporary surcharge of 75c per trip to offset high prices, which Uber and Lyft have instituted in other cities, but not in the Big Apple.

The TLC, under its new commissioner David Do, appointed by Mayor Adams, is also considering whether to raise taximeter fares for the first time in a decade.

“Since February 2019, NYC has imposed 3 pay increases on Uber drivers, including a 5.3% increase in March 2022,” Uber spokesman Josh Gold said in a statement. “FHV drivers in New York have the only minimum wage in the state with an annual cost of living increase tied to the rate of inflation and now earn $31.74 per hour, while drivers taxis have not seen an increase since 2012.”

A spokesperson for Lyft pointed out that their driver earnings were 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 were on average more than 25% above the minimum wage standard in 2021, and it continues to be a great time to drive with Lyft,” CJ Macklin said 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 meet our shared goals.”

TLC’s press office did not respond to requests for comment.

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