Fig. 1. Yeah, this is me. The sign says, “If you’re whining about a labor shortage, STOP ignoring my job applications!” And the QR-code leads here. Photograph by author, January 16, 2023.
Fig. 3. Uber driver Boubacar Sow drives in New York. Photograph by Kevin Hagan via the Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2019, fair use.
Uber and Lyft compete to exploit and abuse the desperate and the stupid. I realize that makes them think they are good capitalists. But the worst imagery of Hell would be of far too kind a place.
What’s happening here is that Uber and Lyft offload business risk onto people who can’t afford it, misclassifies them as “independent contractors,” and denies them the protections, benefits, and minimum wage that employees are entitled to. Meanwhile, both companies claim to be investing in attracting drivers, but their results come very much at drivers’ expense, particularly as Uber claims to have gained drivers as a consequence of inflation, and then pays them next to nothing. That’s exploitation.
Fig. 4. Screenshot of direct message sent to Uber Support by author, December 15, 2022.
When finally we consider the discrepancy in how the companies treat drivers and passengers when one complains against the other, with drivers’ livelihoods routinely threatened but nothing at all, as near as I can tell, done to passengers (figure 4), we see abuse.
If you have any intelligence at all, you will not voluntarily drive for these companies. I have done so only because I have been desperate.
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Laura Forman, “Uber and Lyft Need a Sharper Turn,” Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-and-lyft-need-a-sharper-turn-11618311794
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Jessica Bursztynsky, “Uber CEO is ‘not happy’ with how long it’s taking to pick riders up or prices being charged,” CNBC, May 25, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/25/uber-ceo-is-not-happy-with-driver-supply-pricing.html
Michael Hiltzik, “Uber reneges on the ‘flexibility’ it gave drivers to win their support for Prop. 22,” Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2021-05-28/uber-flexibility-prop-22
Mariella Moon, “Uber and Lyft rides are pricier due to a lack of drivers (and the waits are longer, too),” Engadget, June 1, 2021, https://www.engadget.com/uber-lyft-surge-pricing-lack-of-drivers-035835230.html
Alissa Walker, “Why Your Uber Ride Is Suddenly Costing a Fortune,” New York, June 4, 2021, https://www.curbed.com/2021/06/uber-lyft-expensive-new-york-city.html
Faiz Siddiqui, “You may be paying more for Uber, but drivers aren’t getting their cut of the fare hike,” Washington Post, June 9, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/06/09/uber-lyft-drivers-price-hike/
Cory Doctorow, “The gig economy’s dark-money, astroturf ‘community groups,’” Pluralistic, June 19, 2021, https://pluralistic.net/2021/06/19/dynastic-wealth/#astroturf
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Jeong Park, “Court rules California gig worker initiative is unconstitutional, a setback to Uber and Lyft,” Sacramento Bee, August 20, 2021, https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article253647838.html
Preetika Rana, “California Ballot Measure That Classifies Uber, Lyft Drivers as Independent Ruled Unconstitutional,” Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/proposition-22-is-unconstitutional-california-judge-says-11629512394
Margot Roosevelt and Suhauna Hussain, “Prop. 22 is ruled unconstitutional, a blow to California gig economy law,” Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2021-08-20/prop-22-unconstitutional
Faiz Siddiqui, “California judge rules unconstitutional the measure classifying Uber and Lyft drivers as contractors,” Washington Post, August 20, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/08/20/uber-lyft-prop-22-unconstitutional/
Laura Forman, “An Uncomfortable Proposition for Gig Economy Investors,” Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-uncomfortable-proposition-for-gig-economy-investors-11629754144
Justin Ray, “Prop. 22 is ruled unconstitutional: What it means, how apps reacted and what happens next,” Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/california/newsletter/2021-08-23/proposition-22-lyft-uber-decision-essential-california
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Suhauna Hussain, “Prop. 22 was ruled unconstitutional. What will the final outcome be?” Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/business/technology/story/2021-08-25/after-prop-22-ruling-whats-next-uber-lyft
Levi Sumagaysay, “Uber, Lyft and other gig companies facing fights over Prop. 22 in California — and in states where they want to replicate it,” MarketWatch, September 16, 2021, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/gig-companies-facing-fights-over-prop-22-in-california-and-in-states-where-they-want-to-replicate-it-11631734329
Faiz Siddiqui, “Lyft built a brand on being the nice gig work app clad in pink. Its drivers paint a different picture,” Washington Post, September 21, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/09/21/lyft-driver-shortage/
Laura Forman, “At Uber and Lyft, Ride-Price Inflation Is Here to Stay,” Wall Street Journal, October 4, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/at-uber-and-lyft-ride-price-inflation-is-here-to-stay-11633345381
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Laura Forman, “Gig Companies Can’t Take Everyone for a Ride,” Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/gig-companies-cant-take-everyone-for-a-ride-11635602401
Jeong Park, “Sacramento family wants answers, support from Uber after man’s killing in San Francisco,” Sacramento Bee, December 18, 2021, https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article256688502.html
José Rodríguez, Jr., “Uber And Lyft Could Soon Have A Hard Time Denying Drivers Full Worker Status,” Jalopnik, December 28, 2021, https://jalopnik.com/uber-and-lyft-could-soon-have-a-hard-time-denying-drive-1848276541
Lee Fang, “Uber CEO Admits Company Can Afford Labor Protections for Drivers,” Intercept, January 7, 2022, https://theintercept.com/2022/01/07/uber-drivers-labor-protections-dara-khosrowshahi-european-union/
Megan Tomasic, “Police charge Penn Hills man in death of Uber driver in Monroeville,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 17, 2022, https://triblive.com/local/penn-hills/police-charge-penn-hills-man-in-the-death-of-an-uber-driver-in-monroeville/
Brody Mullins and Ryan Tracy, “Uber, Lyft and Others Launch Campaign to Head Off Unions,” Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-lyft-and-others-launch-campaign-to-head-off-unions-11646733600
Preetika Rana, “Uber Reaches Deal to List All New York City Taxis on Its App,” Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-reaches-deal-to-list-all-new-york-city-taxis-on-its-app-11648123201
Jackie Davalos and Drake Bennett, “Gamification Took Over the Gig Economy. Who’s Really Winning?” Bloomberg, May 27, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2022-05-27/how-uber-and-lyft-gamify-the-gig-economy
Erin Mulvaney and Chris Marr, “Uber-Backed Vote on Gig Work Is Blocked by Massachusetts Court,” Bloomberg, June 14, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-06-14/massachusetts-justices-strike-down-gig-backed-ballot-initiative
Mike Scarcella, “Uber, Lyft drivers claim price-fixing in lawsuit against companies,” Reuters, June 21, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/autos-transportation/uber-lyft-drivers-claim-price-fixing-lawsuit-against-companies-2022-06-21/
Chase DiFeliciantonio, “Uber, Lyft facing fines for failing to provide drivers with proper COVID-19 protections,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 9, 2022, https://www.sfchronicle.com/tech/article/Uber-Lyft-facing-fines-for-failing-to-provide-17362972.php
Joe Napsha and Megan Guza, “Fight between Lyft driver, passenger ends with fatal shooting in Wilkins,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 12, 2022, https://triblive.com/local/man-killed-in-wilkins-township-shooting/
Levi Sumagaysay, “FTC sends a warning to Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other ‘gig-work’ companies,” MarketWatch, September 16, 2022, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/ftc-sends-a-warning-to-uber-lyft-doordash-and-other-gig-work-companies-11663279622
Gabriel T. Rubin and David Harrison, “Biden Rule Would Add More Gig Workers to Company Payrolls,” Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/labor-department-proposes-changes-to-independent-contractor-rules-11665498794
Noam Scheiber, “Biden Proposal Could Lead to Employee Status for Gig Workers,” New York Times, October 11, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/11/business/economy/biden-gig-workers-contractors-employees.html
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Sergio Goncalves, “Uber whistleblower says current business model ‘absolutely’ unsustainable,” Reuters, November 2, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/technology/uber-whistleblower-says-current-business-model-absolutely-unsustainable-2022-11-02/
Yujie Zhou, “Uber is hiding customer payments from drivers. Again,” Mission Local, November 16, 2022, https://missionlocal.org/2022/11/uber-hiding-customer-payments-from-drivers/
Nothing quite says my value as an @Uber driver like making around $100 per day with operating expenses in the $70-90 range.
Oh, but I should do deliveries for even less money, take reservations I won't have time to get to safely, and work late with people shooting at each other.
— David Benfell, Ph.D. (Public) (@BenfellPhD) November 27, 2022
David Benfell, “Nothing quite says my value . . .” Twitter, November 27, 2022, https://twitter.com/BenfellPhD/status/1596893972181311490
I have no choice but to be a lot fussier about what @Uber rides I accept from here on out.
I've tried to be sympathetic with folks around #Pittsburgh on hills without sidewalks in inclement weather.
But with Uber's pay, I'm giving way too many rides effectively for free.
— David Benfell, Ph.D. (Public) (@BenfellPhD) November 28, 2022
David Benfell, “I have no choice but to be a lot fussier . . .” Twitter, November 28, 2022, https://twitter.com/BenfellPhD/status/1597218706354212865
It costs money to drive to passengers. @Uber doesn't compensate me for this.
It costs money to drive home at the end of the day. @Uber doesn't compensate me for this.
And @Uber devalues both my time and mileage on the rides I do take.
I can't afford this.
— David Benfell, Ph.D. (Public) (@BenfellPhD) November 28, 2022
David Benfell, “It costs money to drive to passengers. . . .” Twitter, November 28, 2022, https://twitter.com/BenfellPhD/status/1597225701480202240
Daniel Wiessner, “Biz groups say Biden independent contractor rule clashes with federal law,” Reuters, December 14, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/legal/biz-groups-say-biden-independent-contractor-rule-clashes-with-federal-law-2022-12-14/
Just seeing if I have this straight:
— David Benfell, PhD (Pub.),@Benfell@hcommons.social (@BenfellPhD) December 16, 2022
David Benfell, “Just seeing if I have this straight . . .” Twitter, December 16, 2022, https://twitter.com/BenfellPhD/status/1603549333743439878
Winnie Hu and Ana Ley, “Uber Drivers Say They Are Struggling: ‘This Is Not Sustainable,’” New York Times, January 12, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/12/nyregion/cab-uber-lyft-drivers.html
I have only spoken with a few passengers, but it looks like @Uber is now taking a 60% cut on all fares. They are still leaving drivers with nothing to live on.
— David Benfell, PhD (Pub.),@Benfell@hcommons.social (@BenfellPhD) January 24, 2023
David Benfell, “I have only spoken with a few passengers, but it looks like . . .,” Twitter, January 24, 2023, https://twitter.com/BenfellPhD/status/1617976960344547328
So what do @Uber drivers get for the 60% cut that Uber takes from their pay?
We get to drive to and through dangerous neighborhoods where people are shooting at each other, face road rage from other drivers, take abuse and threats from an at-best useless @UberSupport.
— David Benfell, PhD (Pub.),@Benfell@hcommons.social (@BenfellPhD) January 25, 2023
David Benfell, “So what do @Uber drivers get . . .,” Twitter, January 25, 2023, https://twitter.com/BenfellPhD/status/1618179699913678850
Marcie Cipriani, “Local rideshare drivers stop accepting rides for 48 hours to protest work conditions,” WTAE, February 10, 2023, https://www.wtae.com/article/pittsburgh-rideshare-drivers-lyft-uber-work-conditions/42830261
Liz Kilmer, “Uber, Lyft drivers announce strike across Pittsburgh region,” WPXI, February 10, 2023, https://www.wpxi.com/news/local/uber-lyft-drivers-announce-strike-across-pittsburgh-region/T7SE5T7GHJB7VOD4LG3J4VF34A/
Jon Fingas, “Uber and Lyft driver pay isn’t keeping up with soaring fares, study says,” Engadget, February 14, 2023, https://www.engadget.com/uber-and-lyft-driver-pay-isnt-keeping-up-with-soaring-fares-study-says-173807130.html
Rebecca Bellan, “Lyft is charging riders wait time fees — but drivers aren’t reaping the rewards,” TechCrunch, February 17, 2023, https://techcrunch.com/2023/02/17/lyft-is-charging-riders-wait-time-fees-but-drivers-arent-reaping-the-rewards/
Levi Sumagaysay, “Uber, Lyft, DoorDash trade group asks for delay of worker-classification rule after Marty Walsh resignation,” MarketWatch, February 17, 2023, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/uber-lyft-doordash-trade-group-asks-for-delay-of-worker-classification-rule-after-marty-walsh-resignation-a96b124a
Sakshi Venkatraman, “Uber and Lyft drivers in California say they’ve been spontaneously fired by apps, report finds,” NBC News, March 3, 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/uber-lyft-drivers-california-say-ve-spontaneously-fired-apps-report-fi-rcna73262
Michael Sainato, “‘It was traumatic’: Uber, Lyft drivers decry low pay and unfair deactivations,” Guardian, March 10, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/mar/10/uber-lyft-driver-suspension-deactivation-pay
Preetika Rana, “Uber, Lyft Score Victory as California Court Affirms Right to Treat Drivers as Contractors,” Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-lyft-score-victory-as-california-court-affirms-right-to-treat-drivers-as-contractors-642bdd67
Preetika Rana, “What Happened When Uber’s CEO Started Driving for Uber,” Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-ceo-started-driving-for-uber-5bef5023
Heather Stewart, “‘Stop or I’ll fire you’: the driver who defied Uber’s automated HR,” Guardian, April 16, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/apr/16/stop-or-ill-fire-you-the-driver-who-defied-ubers-automated-hr
Garrett Leahy, “Uber, DoorDash Drivers Spell Out the New Rules of Tipping,” San Francisco Standard, April 17, 2023, https://sfstandard.com/business/uber-doordash-drivers-spell-out-the-new-rules-of-tipping/
Kellen Browning, “Minnesota Governor Vetoes Gig Worker Pay Bill,” New York Times, May 25, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/25/technology/minnesota-veto-gig-workers.html
Kellen Browning, “Has ‘Gig Work’ Become a Dirty Word?” New York Times, May 27, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/27/business/gig-work-uber-lyft-writers-strike.html
Brian Merchant, “Two Uber drivers read the fine print — and won millions for California gig workers,” Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2023, https://www.latimes.com/business/technology/story/2023-06-01/column-uber-david-and-goliath
Karen Hube, “Gig Workers Can Save Enough to Retire. How to Be Your Own Pension Fund Manager,” Barron’s, July 1, 2023, https://www.barrons.com/articles/gig-workers-retirement-savings-196db030
Daniel Wiessner, “Court rules against Uber in major win for California workers,” Reuters, July 18, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/legal/court-rules-against-uber-major-win-california-workers-2023-07-17/
Cory Doctorow, “No, Uber’s (still) not profitable,” Medium, August 9, 2023, https://doctorow.medium.com/no-ubers-still-not-profitable-2b8054e375ea
Paula Reed Ward, “Lawsuit: Uber’s lax security practices led to Turtle Creek driver’s killing,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 8, 2023, https://triblive.com/local/monroeville/lawsuit-ubers-lax-security-practices-led-to-turtle-creek-drivers-killing/
Javier Espinoza, “Uber warns of threat to drivers in ‘hundreds’ of cities under EU gig work plan,” Financial Times, September 20, 2023, https://www.ft.com/content/1d2ca0e1-b3f0-4fcb-b0c0-a2504b48b605
- Eliot Brown, “Uber Wants to Be the Uber of Everything—But Can It Make a Profit?” Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-wants-to-be-the-uber-of-everything-11556909866↩
- Laura Forman, “Lyft’s Defensive Driving Stalls Out,” Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/lyfts-defensive-driving-stalls-out-2efc5f99↩
- Ashley Capoot, “Uber beats estimates and the stock is up,” CNBC, February 8, 2023, https://www.cnbc.com/2023/02/08/uber-earnings-q4-2022.html↩
- Michael Sainato, “‘It was traumatic’: Uber, Lyft drivers decry low pay and unfair deactivations,” Guardian, March 10, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/mar/10/uber-lyft-driver-suspension-deactivation-pay; Sakshi Venkatraman, “Uber and Lyft drivers in California say they’ve been spontaneously fired by apps, report finds,” NBC News, March 3, 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/uber-lyft-drivers-california-say-ve-spontaneously-fired-apps-report-fi-rcna73262↩
- David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/↩