In New York city, taxi drivers looking for an alternative to gig economy platforms like Uber and Lyft are launching a co-operative alternative.
Critics have accused Uber, Lyft and other online labour platforms of exploitive practices, prompting the rise of the platform co-op movement, where employment apps are owned and run by the workers themselves.
Cab drivers around the world have set up several examples, including the TaxiApp run by London black cab drivers.
Launching the NYC venture, the Drivers Cooperative said that Uber and Lyft have been running “on the exploited labour of a 91%-immigrant workforce of 85,000 drivers”, pushing them into poverty “by externalising all vehicle costs onto drivers and taking extortionate commissions on each ride”.
It says that even before the pandemic, over 70% of drivers in the city had less than $1,000 in savings, “a reflection of New York City’s deep racial wealth gap and the predatory structure of the rideshare platform economy.”
Things have worsened during the Covid-19 crisis, with tens of thousands of drivers left out of work. “We’re asking for your help to build back better with a new strategy: launching a driver-owned alternative to Uber and Lyft,” says the co-op.
The co-op hopes to boost driver income “by returning profits to drivers and establish basic employment rights for workers in the sector” as well as save drivers’ money through a credit union partnership as an alternative to “predatory vehicle financing”.
It will also offer a route back into work for drivers who have been delisted by Uber and Lyft. The co-op accused the platforms of doing this “without due process based on specious and often racially biased customer complaints”.
Uber and Lyft have been contacted by Co-op News for a response to these allegations.
In the longer term, the co-ops says it will “fight for a just, green transition to electric vehicles through a Green New Deal” for the taxi sector.
So far it has elected a board of drivers, representing the diversity of the workforce, to guide the project and assembled a “skilled team” of union leaders, ride-hailing operators, fleet managers, branding experts, full-stack engineers and drivers.
Wih grant funding in place from the Emergent Fund and the Workers Lab, it has confirmed a pilot scheme with Cooperative Home Care Associates –the largest worker co-op in the US – to provide transport for home care workers to clients’ homes.
It has bought its ridehailing app code and completed customisations for its NYC launched – and has already completed paid trips for Democrat congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to get early voters to the polls.
More than 1,000 drivers have been engaged with for the project, with 100 already registered.
Money from the new crowdfunding drive will be used to recruit and train new members of the co-op. The app is already in place and will be available to use early next year, it adds.