Disrespectful Passengers & Driver Shortage Fears
The "guilty until proven innocent" standard for passenger complaints must end. Video of San Francisco Uber driver getting harassed combined with driver shortage maybe inflection point
“I used to be a people person. Then people ruined it” - Dustin is Driving
The unfortunate viral video of a group of passengers harassing an Uber driver (i.e. one of them even rips off the driver’s mask and coughs on him) maybe a wake up call for the rideshare industry. For far too long, and I have seen this first hand, the core American legal principle of “innocent until proven guilty” has been flipped on its head with Uber/Lyft drivers and passenger complaints. The “customer is always right” mantra of Uber / Lyft has left many innocent drivers deactivated and with the burden of proof (i.e. “guilty until proven innocent”). Luckily this driver had a camera, luckily this driver kept his nerves, otherwise maybe instead of making national headlines this story would have ended like it has for so many other drivers - deactivation.
In fact, it reminds of me of an NYC incident a few years ago involving a driver who was accused of kicking out a lesbian couple for kissing. The headline and story was made for the press, especially in the age of Trump and “wokeism” - “immigrant driver can’t handle women kissing each other”. The TLC driver was done, he was deactivated and the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission (NYC TLC) took the further step of suspending his TLC license. Who cares that he has a family to feed and livelihood. Who cares that there may have been more to the story - he was guilty, no need for a case, the media narrative prevailed.
Upon review of the facts an NYC judge actually ruled that the driver should be reinstated by the NYC TLC. It appears the driver’s protest related to the fact that the couple were on the verge of having sex in the back seat of his car. Whether your straight, gay or any other sexual orientation, every driver (and person in general) has the right to not have passengers have sex in their car.
“[The Taxi and Limousine Commission] has provided no evidence that this refusal of continued service was based on the sexual orientation of these passengers…[El Boutari (TLC driver)] credibly testified that he asked the complainants to get out of his car because their conduct violated Uber’s policy prohibiting sexual contact between passengers.” - Administrative Law Judge Joycelyn McGeachy-Kuls
El Boutary testified that he has “no problem at all with, with kissing. I’m a human being. The thing is, these two girls … they went over and over, kissing. [They were] deeply kissing, the touching.” He then added that his car is “a car service, not a car for sex….They were about to [have] sex in the car.” - NBC News
The administrative judge also gave the driver credit because he filed a complaint with Uber within hours after the incident stating the same arguments. By contrast, she said the women gave conflicting testimony to Uber, the TLC and at the hearing. - NY Post
All this being said, there are some bad, abusive and reckless drivers out there and there are indeed incidences that warrant immediate suspension. My main point here is that it has historically seemed, at least from my personal observation of living and breathing the NYC TLC industry for four years and interacting with hundreds of drivers, the burden of proof is on the driver much more than the passenger(s). This brings me to to my next point, Uber & Lyft maybe facing a near term driver shortage as a third $1.9 trillion stimulus bill is signed into law.
Uber & Lyft Driver Shortage
As the above chart shows the number of active NYC TLC drivers plummeted at the beginning of the COVID pandemic probably due to fears around catching COVID. Although in later months it rebounded there are still 36% less monthly TLC drivers than there were on March 1, 2020. A likely cause for this is not only decreased trip volumes, but also the federal stimulus bills that sent assistance to many individuals, families and small businesses (i.e. adding up state and federal unemployment assistance checks an individual could have been grossing ~$1,000 per week in spring / summer of 2020). When the first stimulus expired in late summer, you can see the correlation in the chart (i.e. uptick before another decline towards the end of the year when another stimulus was passed). Now with a third stimulus bill about to be passed, Uber, Lyft and other gig economy companies are worried about a driver shortage, especially with expected trip volumes increasing as COVID lockdowns fade away and the weather warms up.
“I'm worried about one thing going into the second half of the year: Are we going to have enough drivers to meet the demand that we're going to have?” - Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi
“I’m not surprised that people aren't returning to platforms, because the government has done a really good job of meeting peoples’ needs.” - Fiona Greig, Co-President JP Morgan Chase Institute
I think Uber and Lyft’s fears around a driver shortage make sense. This is why the companies are now accepting new NYC drivers after nearly 2 years and driver incentives are back.
“Drivers in some cities—including Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, and Sacramento, California—say they’ve received emails and notifications from gig companies offering one-time bonuses if they sign on and complete a few trips. Lyft said last month that it would spend between $10 million and $20 million more this quarter on driver incentives, after cutting its recruitment costs by $15 million at the end of last year. “ - Wired.com
Tying the incident with the Uber driver being abused in San Francisco to the driver shortage it stands to reason that the rideshare companies may change their historical tune with drivers. While the supply demand imbalance maybe short-lived, I hope Uber and Lyft take this time to reflect on the rights of the labor force who helped build the companies. I am hopeful they will and if they do not, my prediction is they will face issues retaining the best drivers on their platforms, which will then lead to a overall lower quality service and ultimately dissatisfied customers.
Auto Marketplace NYC Newsletter is written by Dawood Mian, Founder & CEO of Auto Marketplace NYC. He covers the NYC for-hire transportation industry and related news. Search Auto Marketplace NYC for cars, parts, tires, technicians, body shops, reviews & more. Find great deals at TLCMKT.COM (new site AutoMarketplace.io to be launched soon, sign-up to the newsletter if you are interested to learn more ahead of launch)