March 13, 2017
By Silver Krieger
The so-called “upstate Uber bill” will allow Uber to dispatch to private motorists in their personal vehicles, and applies to all the cities and counties surrounding NYC. The vehicles are subject to little regulation, are not wheelchair accessible, and have no labor protections for the drivers. The result will be an influx into the city of the vehicles, destroying decent incomes for the drivers and worsening gridlock.
As yellow cabs drove by the site of the protest, honking their horns in support, organizers from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance addressed the dozens of drivers, disability rights activists, and community supporters who had shown up to draw attention to the impending legislation. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) has 19,000 members.
Speakers told the crowd that the practice of dispatching to the private motorists as a “Transportation Network Company” (TNC), would be devastating to the incomes of current drivers and to public safety. They accused the Albany government of corruption and said they had been co-opted by Uber and Lyft. “Uber has one-third more lobbyists than Walmart,” said Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the NYTWA. “Uber does not believe in minimum wage laws. They can drop fares as low as they want to, with the money they get from Wall Street. They use the money to attract drivers with bonuses to sign up, but then those end. If this bill passes in Albany, the business model of poverty pay will triumph. It will be on the backs of hard-working families,” she said. She also stressed that in the political climate of our times, and the anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions of the Administration, the workforce, which is “94% immigrant, mostly Muslim and Sikh, is under attack,” and called for their protection.
Yellow cab driver Kumar Arvin echoed those charges. He has been a driver for 25 years. “[They are all] getting kickbacks,” he said. “We bought medallions for billions of dollars. They are not protecting our rights.” Ram Saroop, who has driven a yellow cab for 20 years, said, “They are going to put more burdens on the taxi drivers. We already have huge insurance costs, for regular insurance and worker’s compensation. For the workers comp alone it’s $2,400 a year.” He was also upset about a new $4 charge per airport ride fare that is looming.
Disability rights activists and those who stand with them were also fuming. James Weisman, President and CEO of the United Spinal Association, said, “We made a deal with [Mayor] Bloomberg that by 2020 half of the taxis would be accessible. Now there are many less of them, and there is no mandate for Uber to be accessible. This bill we’re protesting today precludes localities from regulating any access; only the state will be able to do it.” Edith Prentiss, Chair of Taxis For All Campaign, and herself in a wheelchair, said, “Uber thinks that people with wheelchairs don’t deserve transport.”
In further efforts to protect income for drivers, the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG), an affiliate of the IAMAW representing nearly 50,000 ride-hail drivers in NYC, began a new social media campaign with videos “Star ratings don’t pay the bills,” which shows what would happen if other service industry professionals got stars instead of tips. It also declared support for a proposed rule that would require an in-app tipping option in NYC, where taxis already have to offer a tipping option on electronic payment screens. Members of the City Council are among those supporting the measure.