Taxi and Limousine Commission
33 Beaver St
New York, NY 10004
Dear Acting Commissioner and the Board of Commissioners,
As representatives and advocates for more than 70,000 app-based drivers in New York City we are writing to request urgent enforcement action with regard to a high volume for-hire vehicle company in violation of Commission rules.
Yesterday, Lyft informed its New York City drivers that effective June 27, 2019, the company will be subjecting them to new rules that violate the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s pay protection rules, which passed in December of 2018 and went into effect in February of this year.
In a message to New York City drivers as well as a blog post, Lyft announced that it plans to eliminate driver access to the app in periods and areas of low demand and will require drivers who wish to access the app to drive to a location of higher demand or wait until demand increases to access the app. By logging drivers off the app and requiring them to travel to an area of higher demand in order to pick up their next trip, Lyft would be shifting the costs of travel and waiting time onto the drivers and in so doing, violate this commission’s rules.
In the Commission’s statement of basis and purpose for the pay rules, it clearly states that these rules establish a minimum per-trip payment formula that takes into account “drivers’ total working time, both time spent driving passengers as well as time waiting for a dispatch and then traveling to pick up passengers.” Drivers are paid by mile and minute rates which are determined using a utilization rate which works as a multiplier so that drivers are compensated for the minutes and miles with and without a rider in the vehicle.
If an app company simply stops counting the miles and minutes when a driver is waiting for dispatch or traveling to their next pick up location by logging drivers out of the app, the company is not making dispatch more efficient. The drivers are still driving those miles and waiting those minutes. But now those miles and minutes are not accounted for in the pay formula, so driver pay rates go down. If all of the drivers’ miles and minutes are not counted toward the utilization rate, it means drivers aren’t getting paid for those miles and minutes.
Given the competitive, race to the bottom nature of the high volume app-based for-hire vehicle services, we urge the Commission to take swift action to stop Lyft and any other app companies tempted to follow suit from enacting policies that manipulate access to the app in a way that would obscure and fail to account for the “drivers’ total working time, both time spent driving passengers as well as time waiting for a dispatch and then traveling to pick up passengers.”
Furthermore, we call on the commission and city leaders to switch the power dynamic that enables app companies to manipulate thousands of hard working drivers in our city. By limiting new TLC drivers’ licenses instead of limiting vehicles, the city can empower the more than 70,000 New Yorkers who drive for-hire vehicles for a living. Instead of having app companies kick excess drivers off their apps, companies would have to compete for workers with better pay or policies. Amending the cap policy in this way would also give workers the option of ownership rather than being beholden to predatory leasing companies.
Thank you in advance for your swift attention to this issue as it serves all parties to ensure there is a universal understanding of the app companies’ obligations not to obscure drivers’ working time in a way that will reduce drivers’ rightful compensation.
The Independent Drivers Guild is making the move to the UnionTrack ENGAGE member management platform this summer. The switch to the ENGAGE platform will transform our day-to-day operations, freeing up our staff to better anticipate and solve those challenges our drivers face on a daily basis. By using this next-generation member engagement platform, our drivers can keep up to date with the ever-evolving professional driver’s landscape in solidarity.
If you already have a new Engage account set up, Log in Here.
The move to the ENGAGE platform allows IDG staff to spend more time focused on better servicing our members. More time for us, means more time for you.
Breaking Benefits News
As new Guild benefits arrive, we will now be able to quickly share those details with our members. If you need to take action, we will let you know.
Can You Hear Me Now?
ENGAGE combines a robust set of communications tools (SMS, email, socials) allowing real-time Member/Guild communication across a wide variety of platforms. Whatever method you choose, important IDG information will arrive quickly.
From time to time, we may send out short member surveys, to better gauge what our members really need. Your feedback keeps us up to date with issues and praises from the field.
This platform is not intended to replace your existing app-based driving tools.
APP-BASED FHV TRIPS TAXED MUCH MORE THAN TAXIS — FULL REPEAL IS THE ANSWER
New York, NY — The Independent Drivers Guild is renewing its calls for a full repeal of New York State’s congestion tax, which places the cost of congestion squarely on the backs of low income for-hire vehicle drivers. Drivers for app-based companies are struggling to get by after years of being paid less than minimum wage and more than 1,700 have signed the Guild’s petition to repeal the regressive tax. Taxi drivers who were conned into buying medallions at inflated prices are also financially desperate. Meanwhile, commercial and delivery vehicles for companies like Amazon are exempt until at least the end of 2020. The real estate industry and their vehicles that block full lanes of traffic got a pass as well.
App-based for hire vehicle trips are already taxed much more highly than taxis and the new congestion tax made the disparity even worse. App-based for hire vehicle drivers were making less than minimum wage for years and their labor already had a sales tax of 8.875 percent, while taxis are exempt from the sales tax. The addition of the new NYS congestion tax pushed taxation on the average $20 app-based trip up to $5 or 25%. Meanwhile the same taxi trip is taxed $3.30.
“To place the burden of funding the MTA on the backs of the city’s most desperate, low income immigrant workers is simply obscene. It’s a regressive law that should be repealed period. We feel for the taxi drivers who are suffering, however app-based drivers are suffering as well after years of poverty wages. This tax is a bad law that should be repealed for all for-hire vehicle trips,” said Independent Drivers Guild Executive Director Brendan Sexton. “Why give special interests and billionaires a pass by failing to pass taxes like the pied-a-terre tax on billionaires and instead shift costs to poor immigrants who work 12 hour days? It’s time for our legislature to repeal this unfair tax on the labor of all for-hire vehicle drivers and instead make the millionaires and billionaires pay their share.”
Before the new tax went into place, for-hire vehicle trips were already taxed over $260 million per year in sales tax alone. With the new FHV congestion tax that took effect in February, the average Uber or Lyft trip in Manhattan is taxed $5 or 25 percent. A $20 taxi trip is now taxed $3.30 or 16.5%. Taxis are exempt from the 8.875% sales tax. However, they were already taxed some $57 million per year with the MTA fee.
See more background and the Guild’s written testimony on this tax from November 2018:
Three hundred members of the Independent Drivers Guild rallied outside Uber and Lyft NYC offices this morning in solidarity with drivers across the country and around the world organizing for fair pay. The Drivers Guild also led a very slow vehicle procession through the city this morning. The protest procession slowly made its way over the Brooklyn Bridge at 8 AM, through Wall Street, past the Uber office in Manhattan, and across the 59th St Bridge to the Uber and Lyft NYC driver headquarters in Queens. See all the livestream footage at Facebook.com/drivingguild and more photos shared on https://twitter.com/DrivingGuild.
“Never before have we seen so many drivers all over the world take action together. I think Uber and Lyft are more than a little nervous today that their days of paying poverty wages are numbered,” said IDG member and app-based driver Tina Raveneau. “Together we are raising our voices and today we are being heard.”
“Drivers built Uber and Lyft and it is wrong that so many drivers continue to be paid less than minimum wage while Silicon Valley investors gets rich off their labor. All Uber and Lyft drivers deserve fair pay and we stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers across the nation and around the world,” said Brendan Sexton, Executive Director of the Independent Drivers Guild, a Machinists Union affiliate which represents more than 70,000 app-based drivers in NYC.
The Independent Drivers Guild led a two year campaign to win the nation’s first minimum pay rules for app-based drivers in New York City, which regulators projected would increase pay by an average of $10,000 per year. As part of that campaign, the Guild led a procession over the Brooklyn Bridge to win fair pay rules for drivers one year ago. One year later the Guild is back fighting for drivers across the nation and around the world who still make less than minimum wage.
IDG is a Machinists Union affiliate which represents and advocates for more than 70,000 app-based drivers in NYC. The Guild led a two year campaign, amassing more than 16,000 signatures, and formally petitioned the city for the pay rules which are the nation’s first minimum wage rules for drivers for apps like Uber and Lyft. New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission projected the rules would raise pay for New York City drivers by nearly $10,000 per year.
NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and others join with Independent Drivers Guild and The Black Car Fund to launch one-of-a-kind wellness program
New York, NY — In response to high rates of depression, stress and anxiety and an epidemic of for-hire vehicle driver suicides across the city, the Independent Drivers Guild is launching an innovative new mental health and wellness program for NYC’s for-hire vehicle drivers with support from the Black Car Fund. The one-of-a-kind Driver Wellness program seeks to destigmatize mental health care and will take a holistic approach to wellness by providing a suite of free counseling and case management services and classes to address and prevent crisis situations. The Guild’s counseling services are available in English, Spanish, Urdu, Bengali, and Mandarin.
“Too many drivers across our city are in crisis—with nine suicides that we know of in a little over a year. We are launching this program to provide drivers with much needed support and to save lives,” said Brendan Sexton, Executive Director of the Independent Drivers Guild. “At its core, this crisis is largely driven by the economic insecurity of the for-hire vehicle industry. At the same time as we stand up for fair pay for drivers and remedy the exploitation in this industry, we also must give drivers and their families much-needed resources and support. We aim to erase the stigma of mental health care, create a community of support and stop the suicides.”
“This new wellness program comes at a critical moment for for-hire drivers, who desperately need a stronger safety net as they struggle with the stress of an extremely competitive profession, and a more and more demanding daily life,” said Ira Goldstein, Executive Director of the Black Car Fund. “We hope that this program will not just improve lives—but also save them. Something must be done, and the Black Car Fund is proud to work with the Independent Drivers Guild and leaders like Public Advocate Williams to reach out and offer meaningful help before it’s too late.”
The Guild and BCF were joined by New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is a champion of ending the stigma surrounding mental health care, particularly for men and communities of color, and New York City Council Member and Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Also attending the launch event were community partners as well as drivers and family members who have been affected by the crisis in the FHV industry.
“As a mental health crisis continues to grow in the community of drivers that has been New York City’s backbone, it is clear that we in city government have failed this community of hardworking people just trying to keep up,” said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.“I’m glad that this new program will help provide some vital resources and support through a holistic approach that continues to destigmatize mental health care.”
“We cannot sit still as drivers suffering from mental health issues and financial stresses take their lives,” said City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Chairman of the Transportation Committee. “I thank the Independent Drivers Guild and the Black Car Fund for all the work and support they bring to the drivers that need it the most. I will continue working with the Council to ensure our at-risk drivers receive the help they need. This new program from the Independent Drivers Guild and the Black Car Fund will go a long way to improving the quality of life for drivers in New York City.”
“Driving for a living in New York can be a stressful job in 2019: competition for fares is high, the hours are long, and the job itself is demanding. Unfortunately, it seems more and more for-hire drivers are suffering from mental and financial challenges. This new program from the Independent Drivers Guild and the Black Car Fund will go a long way to improving the quality of life for drivers —and will likely save lives as well — at a critical moment for the for-hire vehicle industry,” said Council Member Diana Ayala, Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction.
“Many for-hire vehicle drivers in New York City have faced a myriad of financial challenges that have resulted in new mental health challenges,” said City Council Member Rory Lancman. “We have seen the impact of this crisis all over the City as rates of anxiety and depression have increased among drivers, and nine drivers have tragically taken their own lives in just the past year. The health and well-being of our drivers is a top priority, and I commend the Independent Drivers Guild and the Black Car Fund for launching this new wellness program that will provide counseling and support to drivers in need.”
“Our motto has always been, the drivers come first. We always keep this in our minds as we work to expand the benefits we provide to our covered drivers” said Berj Haroutunian, Chairman of The Black Car Fund Board and President of Vital Transportation Inc. “Being a for-hire driver in this city takes a toll physically and mentally, and both these issues must be addressed. The program we proudly announce today can save lives and will have a positive effect on the well-being of thousands of drivers.”
In recent weeks, the Guild has provided grief counseling for families of drivers affected by violence on the job and fellow drivers who took their own lives. The driver wellness program has also provided trauma counseling for a driver whose passenger was murdered, and crisis support for a driver facing eviction, among others. The program is now launching signups for free individual, couple, and family counseling as well as case management support in obtaining resources at https://drivingguild.org/wellness/
The Guild’s Driver Wellness program focuses on both prevention and crisis intervention. The multi-pronged program is tailored to meet drivers where they are—physically, mentally and in their language. The program includes:
Weekly Driver Discussion Circles: Our discussion circles function as an accessible and destigmatized entry point into the program. Driver circles provide an in-person way to connect, raise concerns, share advice, and gain coping skills. Led by a clinical social worker, drivers share experiences and discuss practical steps they can take to address stressors of the for-hire vehicle industry. Drivers can opt to participate in group and individual counseling after the circle discussion ends.
Immediate Counseling Services for High-Risk Individuals: Private therapy sessions and group and family sessions with a licensed counselor.
Case Management Support: Social workers assess the needs of drivers and their families and provide linkage to services like SNAP benefits, housing assistance, disability support services and more.
Creating a Community Network: participants in the community network will be trained on identifying warning signs of mental health crisis and carrying out mental health first aid. The Community Leader Network will send referrals to the Mental Health and Wellness Team for ongoing counseling, creating a link between frontline communities most impacted by the crisis and the resources they need for prevention long-term.
Wellness Curriculum: expansion of wellness curriculum and classes (financial, mental health, mindfulness, overall wellness, career skills and language proficiency).
“Professional drivers are quite isolated from one another, spending long days behind the wheel. Driver discussion circles provide an in-person way to connect, raise concerns, and gain coping skills. We have been blown away by how ready drivers are to open up about what they are going through,” said Deborah Ho, a counselor with IDG’s driver wellness program.
Mounting pressure from drivers forces company’s hand
By: Matthew Flamm
Lyft, the San Francisco-based ride-hail service, is learning the hard way that you can’t fight City Hall.
The company announced Wednesday that it would begin paying drivers according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s new minimum-wage regulations that it sought to block with a lawsuit only last week.
The suit against the TLC, filed in New York state Supreme Court, failed to obtain an injunction. But in a motion posted Friday morning, Judge Andrea Masley told the company it could pay drivers according to its own rate card and put the raise in escrow while the suit was pending. The next court date is March 18.
That solution quickly proved unworkable as driver protests mounted and Lyft rivals Uber and Via agreed to raise their drivers’ pay immediately.
The new rules require that drivers earn an hourly minimum of $27.86, which comes to $17.22 after expenses (the equivalent of a $15 minimum wage, factoring in payroll taxes and paid leave), with the pay calculated on a per-trip basis. The raise averages out to about $9,600 a year.
By late Friday, Lyft had announced it would pay drivers the amount required by the TLC rather than put money into escrow, but the raise would be distributed over the course of a week. That would allow the company to charge less for rides during periods of low demand and add incentives to keep drivers on the road when demand picked up.
The problem with that approach was that drivers felt they were being shortchanged, because the incentives were considered part of their pay, not an addition to their minimum, as was intended under the rules.
The Independent Drivers Guild, which represents app-based drivers and has led the campaign for a raise, launched a petition demanding that Lyft and Juno—which also sued the TLC—follow the new rules. It collected more than 2,500 signatures.
Lyft told the group on Wednesday that it would pay drivers any back pay they are owed dating to Feb. 1, the day the rules took effect. Juno has not responded to requests for comment.