Amid Gas Problems, NYC Drivers Demand Fuel Surcharges

NEW YORK (AP) — With fuel prices approaching $5 a gallon at some New York gas stations, Uber and Lyft drivers and the city’s taxi fleets are demanding fare surcharges to help offset the rising cost of keeping cars on the road.

A group of upset taxi drivers gathered at a New York gas station on Friday, where regular gasoline had topped $4.60 a gallon.

Drivers plan to deploy a caravan across the Brooklyn Bridge to midtown Manhattan on Tuesday to take their grievances to Uber executives.

Soaring gas prices recently prompted ride-sharing app companies Uber and Lyft to temporarily hit passengers in many cities with a small surcharge to help drivers — who pay for their own fuel. But they refused to apply the surcharge in New York.

“In the past few weeks alone, the price of gas has gone up more than 30%,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which organized the gas station rally. “The money they would normally bring home for rent, groceries and medicine, they now have to spend on gas. This burden must be distributed; it shouldn’t just be about drivers.

Earlier this month, New York City for-hire drivers finally got a long-sought cost-of-living adjustment — a 5.3% increase in minimum rates. Drivers say it hasn’t kept pace with inflation and they are still struggling to earn a living wage in a city that is arguably the most expensive in the country.

“Fuel prices are going up more and more, and we can’t afford it. We want help from the government,” said Suresh Chand, who has been driving a taxi for 25 years. “If we pay $20 more a day for gas, in a month we’re spending $600 out of pocket.”

In an email, Lyft said drivers in New York can still take advantage of a money-back program using a company-sponsored debit card, as well as tax deductions for vehicle depreciation and debit payments. car. The company acknowledged that rising petrol prices were affecting drivers, but said its drivers were earning more per hour on average than a year ago.

“Uber raised its rate for drivers by 5.3% in early March, raising the minimum wage to $31.74 in New York and contributing to higher fuel prices. It’s part of an annual increase tied to the rate of inflation — the only mandatory one statewide,” Uber spokesman Freddi Goldstein said.

Surcharges don’t amount to much, but it would help nonetheless, said Raul Rivera, who helped found NYC Drivers Unite, which is part of a coalition pushing for changes to how companies like Lyft and Uber operate. and pay their workers.

“It’s better than nothing,” Rivera said, “but Uber drivers in New York get nothing.”

When gas prices started to rise, Rivera began to worry. It was hard enough to make a living as the pandemic took its toll on drivers, as office workers left Manhattan to work from home and tourists stopped pouring in from airports.

When the cost of fuel eclipsed $4 a gallon — and kept climbing — he was soon faced with a calculation: Should he curb his livelihood until he could better manage the rising expenses?

Rivera decided to cut his losses and temporarily give up the car he rented for $400 a week to taxi people around New York City as an app driver for Uber and Lyft.

“It just got way too much and then the gas got really bad,” Rivera said.

Organizers hope the parade of vehicles they are planning for Tuesday will draw attention to the plight of drivers, who are part of the country’s growing economy.

They are now joined in their fight by taxi drivers.

On Thursday, Uber said it would start listing New York taxis on its app, after a long rivalry for the same customers.

The deal between the ride-sharing giant and taxi drivers came as more cities sought to regulate app-based ride services. The partnership would help Uber grow further amid driver shortages.

The ridesharing industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but remains a multi-billion dollar industry.

Taxi drivers are calling on the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which oversees taxis and the ride-sharing industry in New York, to implement a $0.75 emergency fuel surcharge on Uber, Lyft and all taxi journeys.

Desai from the taxi alliance said the fare structure lamented by drivers “will also not be sufficient for yellow taxi drivers who have higher expenses such as medallion payment and higher car costs”. .

Adding fuel to their concerns, yellow cab drivers point out that they haven’t had a meter increase since 2012.

Tuesday’s caravan would be the first under the banner of the Justice for App Workers Coalition, which formed last month to defend about 100,000 app workers in New York and surrounding areas, including truck drivers. taxi and food delivery.

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