New York, NY – While the Big Apple looks on in horror as for hire drivers no longer able to make a living behind the wheel continue to kill themselves one after another — opponents of the app-based outfits flooding the city streets say that Uber, “Wall Street Darling” and leader of the pack, is well on its way to cementing the misery and monopolizing the entire industry.
“Uber’s end game is monopolization,” New York Taxi Workers Alliance [NYTWA] Executive Director Bhairavi Desai told LaborPress outside City Hall earlier this week. “And once it is able to monopolize first thing it’s going to do is jack up the price on the public, and pull the driver out of the front seat and go automated. That is a miserable future that they are presenting to a workforce that has depended on the job for generations.”
Fueled by Wall Street Investor money, Desai argues that Uber, Lyft, Via and the rest of the app-based dispatch companies out there, are using their substantial funds to subsidize fares and driver incomes to undercut competing taxis, livery cab and black car operators.
“Individual medallion drivers have sometimes up to $6,000 to $9,000 in expenses a month,” the NYTWA leader said at Tuesday’s rally. “That individual has more monthly expenses on that business than corporation Uber does. And that individual contributes more to the MTA than Uber does. Uber is able to take its Wall Street investor money, subsidize fares to undercut the competition. It’s also the way that Uber was able to flood the streets with vehicles.”
Uber alone, has been valuated at over $60 billion. In 2016, Uber and Lyft spent more on lobbyists than Amazon, Walmart and Microsoft combined. Opponents insists that kind of influence has paved the way for further inequity and stymied efforts to institute reforms that benefit all drivers.
“Look what happened in Albany at the last hour [with congestion pricing],” Desai continued. “Uber, Lyft and Via together, they spent thousands of dollars at the final hour in Albany. They won a congestion pricing plan that says that if the [for hire vehicle] is available for group rides — which every one of their vehicles are — then they only have to charge .75 cents for congestion pricing fees. Yellow cabs already charge .50 cents, and the fee on them would be an additional $2.50. So, yellow cabs will paying $3.00 for congestion pricing, while Uber, Via Lyft, and Gett, and Juno — using Wall Street influence — were able to get their price down to .75 cents.”
City Council Member Barry Grodenchik [D-District 23], said that families that he represents in Queens are suffering.
“I have people in my district losing their livelihoods,” the council member said. “I have people in my district losing their homes. The City of New York has let those people down. This has got to come to an end now.”
I have people in my district losing their livelihoods. I have people in my district losing their homes. The City of New York has let those people down — City Council Member Barry Grodenchik
Grodenchik supports a cap on for-hire-vehicles — one of nine proposals that the NYTWA has been pushing for months.
“We need to produce good living wages for people who go to work,” Council Member Grodenchik added. “This city has been concerned with a $15 an hour minimum wage, and me and most of my colleagues, moved in that direction. We now have to stand up for the people who drive these for hire vehicles. We do not have a level playing field in the City of New York.”
David Galarza Santa, a labor and community activist with the AFL-CIO-affilaited Labor Council of Latin American Advancement, said that cabbies are dying due to government’s inaction on industry reform.
“This is a matter of fairness,” he said. “This is a matter of justice. This is a matter of life and death. How many workers have to die until the City Council does the right thing? How many more will die until [Mayor] Bill de Blasio and the Council do the right thing? You can’t put a price on the life of a cabbie. Cabbies are dying for lack of action on the part of the people that are sworn to protect and serve their constituents.”
The NYTWA is critical of a Taxi & Limousine Commission study and proposal released July 2 — calling it “reckless” and charging, among other things, that it will still leave for hire drivers in poverty.
“We came up with a platform that comes from the drivers,” Desai said. “The other side of proposals are coming from the Taxi and Limousine commission, as of last week. What they have done is taken Uber’s worst business practice of up front pricing, where Uber quotes a fare to the passenger and then when they calculate the payment to the driver, they use a different rate. Uber started doing that last year; the minute it started charging the passengers more. In other words, at the same moment in time when Uber’s fare revenue grew, is when Uber cut the drivers out of that fare revenue. And all the TLC’s proposal does is cements it and makes it legal in the City of New York to rob drivers in that way.”