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Rideshare drivers hold rally in Long Island City, protest Uber’s lockout tactics  

Protesters during the rally on Wednesday, June 26, in Long Island City. The drivers gathered outside Uber’s headquarters to rally against the company’s lockout policy. (Photo by Sabir Hasko)

July 2, 2024 By Sabir Hasko

Members of an advocacy group representing rideshare drivers held a rally outside Uber’s headquarters in Long Island City last week to protest the company’s practice of locking New York City drivers out of its app during low-demand periods.

Wearing blue T-shirts and shouting, “No more lockouts,” the angry protesters stood outside the Falchi Building on 31-00 47th Ave., where Uber is located, while a long, loud motorcade drove around the block. One sign directed at Uber read, “We stand to demand: the end of lockout now!”

The rally, held June 26, was organized by the Independent Drivers Guild, a driver-led advocacy group. The group came together to protest Uber’s forced lockouts, which the drivers say are being used to avoid paying them idle time.

The mid-shift lockouts are the result of a six-year-old regulation set by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission that mandates ride-share companies compensate drivers for idle time between fares. Ever since, Uber and Lyft have been implementing lockouts during low-demand periods, preventing drivers from accessing the apps.

Requiring app companies to pay for idle time was meant to curb rideshare companies from over hiring, a practice they still do in many unregulated markets where drivers in saturated areas often sit unpaid waiting for rides.

NYC is one of the most lucrative markets in the country, but it is also one of the most regulated due to the TLC, which was established in 1971.

By limiting the number of drivers, Uber reduces the amount it would otherwise have to pay drivers for being online, even when there is no demand, in order to comply with TLC regulations.

However, the TLC has no regulations concerning forced lockouts thus far, in which drivers are unable to log in to drive. This results in drivers earning significantly less money despite being available to work.

Aziz Bah, organizing director at IDG, said the drivers attended the rally to remind Uber that they are human and deserve a living wage. He noted that the drivers do their jobs by the rules and deserve to be paid accordingly.

Bah said Uber has gamed the system by locking drivers out.

TLC Commissioner David Do spoke at the rally to support the drivers and expressed his frustration with Uber and its tactics that circumvent TLC rules. He said Uber needs to increase demand for its service, thereby reducing the need for the lockout in the first place.

The rally comes at a time of year when demand for rideshare services is down, as schools and colleges are closed and people leave the city. Uber is the biggest rideshare company in the city, controlling about 75% of the market. Lyft makes up the rest.

Uber blamed the lockouts on the way the TLC calculates the utilization rate, which combines both Lyft and Uber into one formula that makes the base for how much drivers should be paid if idle. Uber wants its utilization to be exclusive of Lyft data.

“The City’s rule inconceivably sets an industry standard for utilization, rather than holding each company accountable for their own rate. Because Lyft has struggled to keep their drivers busy, and until recently took no responsibility, we have no choice but to pick up their slack,” Uber said in a statement to Queens Courier.

Raul Rivera, an advocate for rideshare drivers and founder of NYC Drivers Unite, attended the rally June 26 (Photo by Sabir Hasko)

Raul Rivera, a rideshare driver and founder of the advocacy group NYC Drivers Unite, said he blames the TLC for their predicament because it is supposed to regulate the industry and has the leverage to make Uber do what’s right for workers. He said the TLC could threaten to remove its license in New York City.

Rivera, a Puerto Rican American from the Bronx, said that drivers are last on the priority list. He said drivers should be paid for their work and the time they dedicate to being there physically.

Muhammad Ali showing the Uber driver app during the rally. He was locked out at the time. (Photo by Sabir Hasko)

Muhammad Ali, 31, a Pakistani-American TLC driver and IDG member, usually drives customers to New York airports from Putnam County, where he lives. Ali said Uber is supposed to pay drivers about $28 per hour minimum for being online, per TLC rules. However, he said Uber chooses to lock them out when they fail to get rides in order to stop paying them.

He used to get rides soon after making a drop-off at the airports, which made driving attractive. However, soon after he drops passengers off, Uber automatically and forcefully locks him out if there is no demand.

He said he drives in traffic for about two hours to drop passengers at the airport, and then he is forced to drive back empty for another 2 hours or wait several hours until the app allows him to log in again.

Ali takes care of his parents and three siblings. He says he pays $2,500 for his house rent and $2,160 per month for his vehicle, and he still has to pay gas and other bills as well. Typically, he works a lot to meet his obligations, but now, he cannot work much because of the lockouts.

“Out of 24 hours, we only have 4 hours to go online and work,” Ali said.    

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