Uber Drivers Protest in NYC Against Rising Commission

Uber Technologies Inc. drivers in New York City protested against the mobile car-booking company’s rising commissions and lower fares, posing the latest stumbling block for the startup as it races to expand.

The drivers, who dub themselves the Uber Drivers Network, gathered yesterday in Woodhaven’s Forest Park Drive, where a crowd of about 200 exchanged information about how to organize better as a group so they could effect change.

Many said the company was forcing them to take passengers who request rides through the cheaper UberX service, rather than just the pricier Uber black-car or SUV service, thereby hurting fares. Uber yesterday changed its policy so drivers can opt in or out of driving for services like UberX.

Some of the drivers also said Uber is leaving them with just 62 percent of fares, after the San Francisco-based company initially agreed to give them 80 percent of the price of a ride. The drivers said they plan to protest each week, with another demonstration in front of Uber’s Long Island City office on Sept. 15.

“We’re not going to get tired,” said Abdoulrahime Diallo, 28, a driver from the Bronx who was helping to lead the protest. “We’re going to do the same thing over and over and over again.”

Uber has faced opposition from taxi drivers worldwide as it has up-ended the transportation industry. The protest in New York, which is the company’s biggest market by revenue, indicates disgruntlement within the service’s own ranks. That could potentially crimp Uber’s efforts to recruit new drivers as it rolls out its service in more cities globally. The company, started in 2009 by CEO Travis Kalanick and co-founder Garrett Camp, raised $1.2 billion in a June financing that valued it at $17 billion.

Driver Treatment

“We are constantly looking for new ways to enhance driver earnings,” an Uber representative said.

The issue of how Uber treats its drivers has already found its way to court. Labor lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan has sued Uber in Suffolk County Superior Court in Massachusetts twice -- once in 2012 and again this year -- for issues including allegedly withholding gratuities from drivers.

Uber typically charges a 20 percent commission on rides. In March, it raised the fee it takes for its pricier black-car service to 25 percent from 20 percent. Uber also charges a 28 percent commission for trips on its SUV service.

In New York, Uber temporarily cut fares for its cheaper UberX service by 20 percent in July. Some drivers said that the reductions have since become permanent.

Suspended Drivers

Drivers for the black-car service and SUV service said Uber last week told them they must take requests to drive passengers for the less-expensive UberX, or lose access to the app.

One driver, Hatem Maher, 49, said he declined to take UberX passengers and was suspended by the company for 24 hours earlier this week. He added that he was having trouble making money after Uber raised commission and cut fares this summer.

An Uber representative said the company doesn’t have a policy of suspending drivers who don’t take UberX ride requests.

Not all drivers are participating in the protest. Adam Cosentino, who has been driving for Uber in New York for the past two years, said he isn’t aware of the protest and wouldn’t join it.

“I’m not complaining because I’m still busy and I make money,” said Cosentino, who drives for UberX.