Wednesday’s Headlines: A Day Without Uber Edition

Scores of activists rallied at City Hall last month to argue that Mayor de Blasio has decelerated Vision Zero. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Scores of activists rallied at City Hall last month to argue that Mayor de Blasio has decelerated Vision Zero. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Uber and Lyft drivers will go on strike during the morning rush — and we’re hoping that New Yorkers are so happy with the quiet streets that they ask for the strike to be permanent. That’s not to say that Uber and Lyft drivers don’t have a legitimate beef with the tech companies, which have turned taxi drivers into Silicon Valley slaves — aided and abetted by the Trump Labor Department, which considers the drivers independent contractors not eligible for all sorts of benefits that all workers deserve.

In any event, send your favorite Uber- and Lyft-less street photos to us at tips@streetsblog.org. We’ll publish a montage later today.

And now the news:

  • Lots of outlets covered the Families For Safe Streets rally at City Hall to demand stronger action by the de Blasio administration to make roadways safer, as fatalities are up dramatically this year. (Curbed, amNY, NY Post). The road violence in Vision Zero New York even became an international story, thanks to coverage by The Guardian. Streetsblog had started the day off with the scoop that Corey Johnson will push the mayor further than he has said he wanted to go.
  • As if the de Blasio crackdown wasn’t enough, now e-bike-using delivery workers are the target of merciless thieves. (NY Post)
  • A Bronx NYPD captain is on trial for helping another cop avoid a DWI. (NYDN)
  • Legislators in Albany passed a bill to put cameras on school buses to catch people who don’t stop at their flashing red lights (NY Post, Buffalo News). Full disclosure: As cyclists, we stop.
  • Arthur Schwartz is still upset about even the watered-down 14th Street busway plan. (The Villager)
  • Joe R.

    Last I checked you can’t be considered an independent contractor if you have no freedom to set your work hours. Uber or Lyft drivers can’t just tell their customers they’ll pick them up whenever it’s convenient for them to work. They have to keep to some kind of schedule dictated by the customers. Ditto for anyone who is required to report to a work site and work hours dictated by whomever is paying them. They’re an employee, not an independent contractor. Traditionally, independent contractors were mostly people in highly skilled fields doing things where they were able to choose their own work schedule. They were also generally much more highly compensated than employees.

    Now it seems employers want to classify everybody as an independent contractor so they save on employment taxes. I somehow doubt they’ll pass those savings on to their “independent contractors” in the form of higher pay rates. Now I’m all for traditional independent contracting as it gives people in certain fields a chance to work the hours and days they want, all while netting more per hour than they would as an employee doing the same thing. However, the minute the employer requires you to keep to any kind of schedule, or otherwise dictates the manner in which you do your work (as opposed to just the end result), you’re no longer an independent contractor. You’re an employee entitled to whatever benefits employees in your state or city must receive. Restaurant delivery people aren’t independent contractors, either. They’re employees who must be paid at least minimum wage.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Independent contractor” abuse is certainly out of hand. There are “freelance” assembly line workers. But no Uber of Lyft driver is required to work a shift or accept a ride as far as I know.

    But let’s examine the concept a little further. What if the bashing of Uber and Lyft now in vogue were applied to other similar situations?

    The idea appears to be that you shouldn’t be allowed to function as an “independent contractor” on public property unless you earn enough to get something somewhere north of the minimum wage. Otherwise, you are just piling into a market and cutting the earnings of everyone else. It makes sense, at least to an extent. You have to allow a certain period of lower earnings for someone to build up their skill and clientele, to see if they can make it.

    What about street vendors? We all like cheap and interesting food, but should their numbers be limited based on earnings — which should be monitored based on the taxes the pay? After a year, if you can’t provide everyone in the cart $17.50 per hour, you lose the right to occupy public space. Go work for someone who can pay you $15.

    For me it is about what, not about who. Same rules.

    Next up, what about the domestic servants that have become so common in limousine liberal land? I’m old enough to remember when the decline of domestic occupations was heralded by economists as an indicator of the advance of our economy. Since those were the worst jobs, their decline showed workers had better options. “You can’t get good help.”

    But since the 1980s, even (other) people who say they are middle class have someone watch their kids, mow their lawns, clean their house. So, $17.50 per hour, based on taxes paid, or you can’t hold the job?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Hey Gersh, is Streetsblog part of the blood oath not to break Omertà with regard to the fact that the transit system will be right back where it was after all the congestion pricing revenue is bonded against and spent, in a downward spiral with no money for ongoing normal replacement let alone expansion without even more in taxes and fees?

    If not, you might want to take a look at page 59 of this document.

    https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/mm4-19.pdf

    Recall that after the New York Times blew the whistle Governor Cuomo decided to put up about $half a billion in actual revenues into the MTA as a part of a “state of emergency.” Not keeping a promise to come up with all the money needed to fund the capital plan after the “MTA had exhausted its resources,” cut raising the state’s contribution above the zero it had been since the mid-1990s. But putting in some actual money.

    And Cuomo bullied DeBlasio into having the City of New York put up money for the first time since the mid-1990s. Another half $billion.

    So now we have congestion pricing, with projected revenues of $1 billion. So what happens to the City of New York’s actual cash money contribution to the MTA capital plan? Look for yourself. Down $1 billion. And you know that the one thing frenemies Cuomo and DeBlasio agree on is cashing in the future, and not caring about those who will live in it. So expect the state’s contribution to disappear as well.

    Everyone who doesn’t object agrees to. Why will there be no MTA Capital Needs assessment until 2023, when they both will be gone, and the MTA will the $85 billion in debt rather than $42 billion? Streetsblog should either explain why this is completely fair of those who will live in the city in 2025 — or expose the scam it is.

  • kevd

    so they’ll just be parked in bike lanes on their phones, but just NOT on the Uber or Lyft driver apps for 2 hours?

  • Ian Turner

    Calling Uber drivers slaves does a disservice to actual slavery.

    The face of modern day slavery looks like this:
    https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/01/20/463600820/todays-slaves-often-work-for-enterprises-that-destroy-the-environment
    https://scroll.in/article/853081/the-daily-fix-india-should-be-bothered-by-modern-day-slavery-not-those-who-document-it

    Not like this:
    https://www.moneytalksnews.com/a-successful-uber-driver-shares-his-top-xx-tips/

    I love Streetsblog for its coverage of transportation issues in NYC, but let’s keep some perspective here. Nobody is being chained up, abducted, or assaulted by ride sharing companies.

  • billsteigerwald

    Nice job: You combined mindless Uber-hate and deranged Trump-hate into one little item. Plus, I smell a hint of legacy taxi love, I think. Get out of NYC some day and come to a city like Pittsburgh, where the government-protected monopoly Yellow Cab Co. screwed consumers — especially the poor and black ones — with horrible, racist, expensive and lousy service — for 80 years until Uber/Lyft arrived and liberated us.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Why are a bunch of video cameras filming on the Brooklyn Bridge?

    1) DeBlasio will announce a bike lane?

    2) DeBlasio will announce a bike ban?

    3) DeBlasio will announce a PM bike ban?

    4) Just coverage of bike to work month, on the bridge with fewer bikes?

  • Larry Littlefield

    They didn’t liberate those who can’t afford taxis, Uber of Lyft for all their travel. Wasn’t transit service in Pittsburgh basically gutted a decade ago?

  • billsteigerwald

    Mass transit in Pittsburgh is buses, busways and a fare-subsidized rinky-dink trolley system, the T, built mainly for middle-class and upper-class suburbanites. Bus service has been shrinking because of chronic money problems/shortages but the decline of public transit was not caused by the arrival of Uber/Lyft five years ago. By the way, in 1994, Allegheny County’s 1.3 million people had fewer than 300 monopoly Yellow Cabs; today there are probably 4 or 5 thousand part-time Uber/Lyft drivers like me who reliably, safely, relatively cheaply take rich, poor, white, black, mostly young, always appreciative students, workers and tourists around the city/suburbs.

  • Andrew

    Uber and Lyft drivers will go on strike during the morning rush — and we’re hoping that New Yorkers are so happy with the quiet streets that they ask for the strike to be permanent.

    Oh, so you agree with the congestion pricing foes who claim that Uber and Lyft are entirely to blame for congestion (as if streets were uncongested before 2014)?

    Get real. Those of us who don’t own cars find the occasional need to travel by car, whether to transport heavy items, to travel with people who have difficulty riding transit, to take a last-mile trip from a subway or railroad station to a destination not served by buses, etc. For all of their faults, TNC’s are still far preferable to car ownership.

  • Sassojr

    I know … It’s preposterous that one could think adding 100,000 FHVs (where the goal of drivers is to drive as many miles as possible with a passenger) to the city would make congestion worse…

  • Larry Littlefield

    Just saw this.

    http://www.mta.info/press-release/nyc-transit/mta-nyc-transit-retires-last-1980s-era-buses-modernization-fleet-continues

    The RTS was a significant advance. I am really bothered by fumes, and it was the first bus I could ride without feeling sick from diesel exhaust.

    The MTA is touting just how much better its replacements are. The buses are getting better, but bus service is getting worse. The problem is not the vehicles.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Transit was gutting by soaring pension costs. But what do you mean by “relatively cheaply.” Could a poor person, or moderate income person, afford to take 15 rides per week, to work and elsewhere, via Uber/Lyft? I doubt it.

  • Joe R.

    I think the fundamental difference between street vendors and Uber/Lyft drivers is that the former are basically running their own business, whereas the latter are functioning more like employees of a large company, even if they may not be required to accept any given fare, or work any given hours. This means they have less control over their potential earnings. There are no options where you can make substantially more or less money driving people. You generally earn whatever Lyft or Uber is giving their drivers, and that’s it. Sounds more like a wage to me.

    On the other hand, people who are truly independent contractors, like I’ve been for the last 28 years or so, have a lot of options. I can and have refused any work where the resulting hourly rate, based on the fees I could charge, would be less than about $20 an hour. I can and have billed at fees of my choosing, depending upon the kind of work (i.e. electronic repairs might only merit $30 to $50 an hour, while design work can merit $100+ per hour). I have always worked hours of my choosing, although some projects of course need to be completed within a given time frame. And I have worked for little or nothing up front with contracts stipulating I would get far more money than my usual rates if/when whatever I designed sold. The latter is a calculated risk/reward people in business for themselves are free to engage in. A lot of these projects didn’t pan out, and I made the equivalent of less than minimum wage, but I knew that was a possibility going in. Few or no of these options are available to Uber/Lyft drivers, gardeners, house cleaners, babysitters, and so forth. They get the going rate and that’s it. Since many of these jobs stipulate certain work hours by their nature, these people are employees, no matter how much the company doling out their services wants them to be independent contractors. Maybe if a person offering these services is both the head of their company, and the only one doing the service, then they’re an independent contractor. However, when that’s the case they’re also enjoying getting 100% of the revenue. People who work for ride sharing services don’t enjoy these perks.

    But since the 1980s, even (other) people who say they are middle class have someone watch their kids, mow their lawns, clean their house.

    I’ve always been curious how these people pay for these things. We’ve been solidly middle class, yet we’ve always done our own gardening, cleaned our house, and so forth. I even have to take care of my mother without any breaks because there are no viable alternatives. My brother and sister have no time, and we don’t have the kind of money to pay people to take care of my mom for any length of time which would make a difference to me (i.e. one day a month off is worthless to me but that’s about all we could afford). My guess is these people use their home equity to pay for this help, the same way they use their home equity to buy new cars and other crap they don’t need. It’s a false prosperity financed by mortgaging away your future.

  • qrt145

    Note we are talking about people who *say* they are middle class. It is a notoriously blurry category. People with a $250K income in NYC may say the feel like middle class, but it’s all subjective, even if it’s five times the national median household income and definitely enough to pay someone to clean your house.

  • Joe R.

    That’s true, although even in an expensive city like New York, I tend to think once your household income gets into six figures you’re starting to break into the upper middle class. Sure, in some places in NYC, earning $250K may make you still feel like you’re middle class, but living in the most expensive neighborhoods is really a lifestyle choice people make.

    As an aside, if I had been able to earn $250K at will, I’d say after 10 years I would have considered myself comfortably retired. Again, it’s a lifestyle choice. I’d rather have a modest residence and no hired help in exchange for more years of free time.

  • Joe R.

    I get sick from regular car exhaust as well. Here’s the kicker—riding in later model cars, say those from early 2000s onwards, makes me sicker than riding in older cars. My theory is the newer cars use a lot more plastics and synthetics. As a result, the outgassing from these, combined with the intrusion of car exhaust, makes me sick. It’s bad enough that I generally can’t tolerate car rides over about 15 minutes.

    On the other hand, buses don’t make me sick. Never have, other than school buses. The fact the interiors have a lot of metal and fiberglass, neither of which have significant outgassing, has to be the reason.

  • qrt145

    Interesting article here: https://www.businessinsider.com/middle-class-income-us-city-san-francisco-2018-2 . They say that according to a definition used by Pew, where the middle class is between two-thirds and twice the median income, the middle-class range in NYC is $50,245 to $150,736 .

  • Joe R.

    Wow, it looks like we don’t even break into the middle class most years when my mom has her pension/SS income, and I have under $10K from self-employment. For a few good years we were actually at the high-end of middle class, but that was it.

  • billsteigerwald

    (Public transit was gutted because it was an incompetent, bloated, politicized, manage-union-wrecked operation faced with higher operating costs, huge legacy costs/pensions and shrinking ridership — like most mass transit operations in the USA. Uber/Lyft are not responsible for mass transit’s death spiral.)

    By “relatively cheaply,” I mean, um, relatively cheaply. Uber/Lyft aren’t meant to be a commuter’s daily replacement for bus transit, public or private, but a complement or a handy alternative. For example, when there’s a 8 inch snowfall and the public buses don’t show up, or people are afraid to drive to work, or can’t walk or ride a bike, it’s nice to have an Uber driver available. I’ve carried thousands of riders of all races, occupations and life styles who’d be classified as “poor.” Few use it every day, but some use it every Friday as a treat, instead of taking three buses to get home after a long week. As I’ve said many times, when you are criticizing Uber/Lyft, it usually helps to know what you are talking about.

  • Daphna

    Only 500 or so Uber drivers when on strike yesterday morning during the two hour window of time. This is less than 1% of the Uber drivers in the NYC area. The other 99% of local Uber drivers were happy enough with their work that they did not join the strike.

  • Guy Ross

    Or so deeply in debt and aware of the leverage their employer has over them they were too afraid to join.

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