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Rideshare drivers in Kansas City’s gig market want more protections from companies

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Rideshare drivers in Kansas City’s gig market want more protections from companies

Sep 30, 2022 | 12:07 pm ET
By Mili Mansaray
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Rideshare drivers in Kansas City’s gig market want more protections from companies
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April Shabazz at her apartment in Kansas City. She drives for Uber but doesn’t own a car, instead she rents one by-the-week and hopes to make what she needs for bills and the next week’s car rental fee (Chase Castor/The Beacon).

This story was originally published by the Kansas City Beacon

April Shabazz began driving for Uber full time this summer. The job wasn’t new for her. Rideshare driving had been her side gig for three years, along with work as a tax preparer.

Shabazz, a member of Stand Up KC and the Missouri Workers Center, likes Uber’s flexible schedule. It enables her to work around some health issues and frequent medical visits.  She still has grievances with the company, however.

“Honestly, I’m not gonna say that I really feel valued as a driver,” she said.

Shabazz is not alone in that sentiment. Coming out of the disruptions caused by the pandemic, and following a summer of heightened gas prices, many rideshare drivers say they do not feel valued by their companies. They say large commission cuts, few resources  and a lack of corporate transparency make their jobs harder, especially in a place like Kansas City, where competition for customers can be cutthroat.

While rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft do not share localized data on their numbers of drivers, The RideShare Guy (RSG), a blog about the rideshare gig economy, estimates that approximately 1.5 million drivers represent Uber and Lyft in the United States.

Overall, 16% of Americans have earned money at one time or another via an online gig platform, according to the Pew Research Center. Fifty-eight percent of gig employees rely on their gig jobs to meet basic needs.

RSG estimates that about 1% of the working adult population of the U.S. is involved in some sort of gig job, according to Sergio Avedian, senior contributor at the blog.

While Uber alone has added 640,000 drivers to its Uber and Uber Eats platforms since January 2021, it has not been able to retain most of its drivers and has to continually replenish its driver base. About half of Uber’s drivers quit after just one year, according to the RideShare Guy platform.

“Unfortunately, from the first day, Uber and Lyft had this attitude of churn and burn,” Avedian said. “We don’t care if we lose a million drivers this year, because there’s another million waiting  to join the platforms.”

Drivers make less while the apps charge more

Uber claims that it charges its drivers a 25% fee on all fares. But after accounting for other additional fees deducted from the fare, such as booking, safe ride and marketplace fees, the percentage taken from drivers is much higher.

“Since 2019, the fares that Uber and Lyft are charging passengers have gone up anywhere between 60 and 70 percent throughout the country, depending on the city,” said Avedian.

“They are charging a lot more and they are paying a lot less.”

The company no longer produces a receipt showing the breakdown of what the trip cost, what fees are deducted and what the driver will receive.  Instead it shows an aggregate total of trips and driver earnings over a given period. The amount that Uber has taken off the individual fare is not available, although the company has said it is working on a plan that would give drivers more information up front.

“Less transparency is definitely happening,” Avedian said.

Drivers are also not compensated for gas, and while the price of gas has fallen from its summer peak, the higher cost of living post-pandemic continues makes it difficult for drivers to break even with these fees.

Erica Downey, who lives in Wyandotte County, drives for the food delivery platform DoorDash, which does break down fees for drivers but does not compensate them for fuel costs until they reach five years’ seniority. Drivers for the app receive a base pay depending on the distance, estimated time of delivery and other factors. The minimum payment is $2.

“That’s not even the price of one whole gallon of gas,” Downey said. Over the summer, she experienced days where the amount she made from driving was the same amount she had to spend on gas.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s a fair wage,” she said. “It’s not just the gas prices here. It’s the way that DoorDash pays you as well.”

Downey started declining orders under $5, which has decreased her acceptance rate, resulting in her receiving fewer orders as she is now one of the last drivers to be notified of nearby orders.

“Since 2019, the fares that Uber and Lyft are charging passengers have gone up anywhere between 60 and 70 percent throughout the country, depending on the city,” said Avedian.

“They are charging a lot more and they are paying a lot less.”

The company no longer produces a receipt showing the breakdown of what the trip cost, what fees are deducted and what the driver will receive.  Instead it shows an aggregate total of trips and driver earnings over a given period. The amount that Uber has taken off the individual fare is not available, although the company has said it is working on a plan that would give drivers more information up front.

“Less transparency is definitely happening,” Avedian said.

Drivers are also not compensated for gas, and while the price of gas has fallen from its summer peak, the higher cost of living post-pandemic continues makes it difficult for drivers to break even with these fees.

Erica Downey, who lives in Wyandotte County, drives for the food delivery platform DoorDash, which does break down fees for drivers but does not compensate them for fuel costs until they reach five years’ seniority. Drivers for the app receive a base pay depending on the distance, estimated time of delivery and other factors. The minimum payment is $2.

“That’s not even the price of one whole gallon of gas,” Downey said. Over the summer, she experienced days where the amount she made from driving was the same amount she had to spend on gas.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s a fair wage,” she said. “It’s not just the gas prices here. It’s the way that DoorDash pays you as well.”

Downey started declining orders under $5, which has decreased her acceptance rate, resulting in her receiving fewer orders as she is now one of the last drivers to be notified of nearby orders.

The Kansas City Beacon is an online news outlet focused on local, in-depth journalism in the public interest.