What I Want NYC to Do About Uber

You may have heard that NYC is potentially going to cap the number of cars with Uber and similar services.  

On one side, Uber is adding more cars to already congested streets--and taxi medalians have been capped for years.  

On the other, you'll hear that Uber solves the transportation desert problem in NYC and also makes live easier for riders of color who are used to getting skipped over for rides.

I'm not there yet on whether I have an opinion as to what the right number of Ubers should be in NYC, but I do have a very strong opinion as to the treatment of drivers and other "gig economy" workers.

You see, Uber drivers, Taskrabbits, Relay bike delivery people, etc. are all 1099 workers.  Each individual trip and task is treated as a gig--a one-off project not unlike the way you might, for example, pay someone to design your website or code up an app.  

The problem is that 1099 offers near zero in the way of worker protections for anyone who does it like a full time job.  So, while a W-2 worker has protections around overtime and being overworked, 1099 workers don't have any.

I spoke to an Uber driver the other day.  He talked about the way Uber's rules deal with driving time versus total time.  Uber has a 10 hour limit on driving time--i.e., time on the clock with a rider--but up until recently, had no limit on the amount of time you could drive around trying to get to that 10 hours.  He said it would often take 15 hours to get 10 hours of rider time in.

A W-2 worker would have protections around 15 hour shifts and overtime requirements, but 1099s are SOL.

On top of that, when you take expenses into account like gas, leasing, and insurance, drivers are making below minimum wage.

It's been said that the city is considering putting in minimums for drivers, and I would say that before we cap the number of cars, we should be improving the lives of drivers.  Let's measure time in the car and make sure drivers are *netting* at least the minimum wage for all the hours they're in the car, because you literally can't earn the income without paying the expenses.  

This way, we focus on the first step of making sure Uber and others find a viable business model that doesn't involve abusing its workers.  Then, if it finds it can still exist, then we should figure out how many cars there should be. 

Interestingly, one of the ways it can do this is by increasing utilization--i.e. putting less drivers on the road, increasing wait times, so that each driver spends more time getting paid.  Right now, it floods the system with drivers to decrease wait times for consumers.  I, for one, would wait an extra couple of minutes if I knew that meant fair pay for drivers.

The City Counsel should use its leverage in this cap conversation to force Uber to pay drivers better.  If they really want to avoid the cap, they should be held to a higher worker treatment standard.