Uber drivers took to the New York City streets to protest the company’s unilateral decision to cut prices by 15 percent.
Image: Evan Rodgers/Motherboard
New York City dwellers who launched the Uber app on Friday morning received a small treat: a pop-up notification informing them of a 15 percent price cut on all UberX fares throughout the city. And while that may be good news for users looking to get around town on the cheap, Uber drivers aren't too happy about it.
"Consumers should know that Uber is not on their side," Uber driver Mamadou Diagana told me at a Monday afternoon protest staged outside the company's New York City headquarters in Long Island City, Queens. A police officer on the scene estimated that there were as many as 150 protesters in front of Uber's headquarters.
Uber began implementing price cuts in select cities in early January, claiming lower prices would spur demand in a traditionally slow time of the year. More demand means more fares for drivers to collect, Uber reasoned, with the increase in ridership offsetting the smaller base fares.
Like other drivers at the protest, Diagana disputed Uber's assertion that cheaper fares would lead to more rides requested on the service, and therefore more money in his pocket. "People are paying $250, $350, $350 a week for cars," he said, referring to the weekly payments and other expenses like gas and insurance that some drivers incur for their Uber car. "So now to be able to pay $250 or $350 you need to be able to make more money and [do] more hours, which is not helping us," he added, suggesting the price cut would make it more difficult for more drivers to earn a living driving for Uber.
"I'm a college student right now," Uber driver Lakpa Sherpa told me, "so it's really hard on me to support my family" following the price cut. "We're making less than taxi cabs," he added, saying that he would instead drive for competing services Lyft and Gett.
Another driver, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, complained that Uber should have taken the 15 percent price cut out of its own commission instead of taking it out of drivers' pockets. "They say that Uber drivers are making more, but that's a fallacy. I come from the corporate world, and when you make a plan everything looks good on paper but when you come out onto the field it's totally the opposite."
For its part, Uber has described the results of the rate cut as "promising," saying drivers over the weekend saw a 20 percent increase in hourly earnings compared to two weeks ago.
Still, many of the drivers I spoke with at the protest weren't merely upset with the recent rate cut, but instead were suspicious of the company's overall motives.
"Uber is the equivalent of Nazi Germany," said a driver who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. "They're trying to take over the world using ignorant, uneducated immigrants to better their position… It's like we're whoring ourselves out. Uber is the pimp, and the people that ride are Johns and Janes."