We are Uber and Lyft drivers, essential workers in greater Seattle’s ever-expanding network of transportation options. Over 30,000 of us are licensed to drive in King County. The majority of us are people of color and immigrants who came to this country seeking a better life.
Before the onset of the pandemic, we drove you to ballgames, concerts, and restaurants. We were your last-minute lift to the airport or business meeting. You relied on us to get to your destination when other modes of transportation were less convenient or not available at all.
With COVID-19, our work has become more hazardous but perhaps more indispensable. We now transport sick patients to clinics and hospitals with greater regularity, usher the elderly to medical appointments, and make sure healthcare and grocery workers get to their jobs on time.
As frontline workers who interact with the public, we’ve taken on added expenses for personal protective equipment and are spending additional time working “off-the-clock” between trips for frequent vehicle cleanings to help ensure the safety of our passengers.
We love our jobs and the flexibility driving for Uber and Lyft provides us. While we don’t expect to get rich in the ridehail business, we do expect to earn enough to pay rent, put food on the table for our families, and take our kids to the doctor.
Unfortunately, despite pressure from Seattle city officials and labor unions, Uber and Lyft have been unwilling to adjust their commission-heavy compensation structure to pay drivers fairly. Our earnings have been cut on multiple occasions over the years while our expenses and the cost of living have skyrocketed. Drivers are earning less than 50% of what we did when Uber first entered the Seattle market in 2011, according to rate-per-minute and rate-per-mile declines in the city. Nationally, the average earnings for rideshare drivers dropped by 53% from 2013 to 2018.
All the while, we are responsible for covering the costs of driving—gas, insurance, maintenance, repairs. This has kept life’s necessities out of reach for too many of us.
Recently, economists studied the earnings of Uber and Lyft drivers in King County. Their findings are not surprising to drivers but are nonetheless shocking. According to their report published this July, drivers in our region earn on average $9.73/hr after expenses—far less than Seattle’s $16.39 minimum wage.
The pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests have further exposed these inequities. Uber and Lyft drivers are a predominately Black and brown subset of the workforce. Not only are we paid significantly less than the average Seattle worker, but we don’t have access to benefits and social safety net protections afforded to other workers.
City officials have studied the problem for years and understand it clearly. Now is the time for bold action to improve the lives of workers. Seattle has a proud tradition of leading on labor issues. We were one of the first cities in the nation to pass $15/hr minimum wage. We paved the way on paid sick and safe leave.
Now, Mayor Durkan has introduced a Fare Share plan that will significantly raise pay for Uber and Lyft drivers. The proposal would ensure that drivers are paid fairly and that reasonable expenses are taken into account.
We urge our civic leaders to build on the Mayor’s groundbreaking proposal. Riders and drivers need greater transparency to be certain that prices are affordable, drivers are fairly compensated, and company commissions are reasonable.
Drivers need living wage protections that restore cuts to driver pay and account for the high costs borne by workers in this industry including minimum compensation on short trips, fair mileage rates, and safeguards for drivers with high-cost vehicle loans.
With modest improvements, this policy will reduce racial inequality in our city and promote fairness for frontline workers as we recover from the pandemic. Most importantly, it will ensure that when workers drive for Uber and Lyft, we drive with dignity.
Peter Kuel is an Uber and Lyft driver, human rights activist, and president of Drivers Union