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Uber drivers, feeling squeezed, plan to protest proposed regulations in NYC

The Independent Drivers Guild, a union affiliate representing thousands of ride-hailing drivers in New York, plans to protest a city proposal that would limit drivers to working for a single app and require them to pay a $2,000 annual licensing fee. (Reuters)

Uber drivers will hit the streets of New York City early Monday but not just to ferry passengers around.

The Independent Drivers Guild, a union-sanctioned organization that represents thousands of ride-hailing drivers for Uber and Lyft, is planning a demonstration at City Hall to show members’ displeasure at a new measure that would impose significant new costs on ride-hailing drivers. A spokeswoman for the guild characterized the proposal as a “tax-to-work” scheme.

The bill would impose an annual licensing fee of $2,000 per vehicle and require drivers to work with only one ride-hailing app, instead of driving for several as many do now. Drivers say they are already finding it difficult to make a decent living with the apps.

“People have been putting in 12 or 14 hours [a day] just to make minimum wage,” driver Aziz Bah, 45, said in an interview last week.

Monday’s planned demonstration comes as more jurisdictions, including Chicago and Washington, have moved recently to slap taxes on ride-hailing services as a way of limiting inner-city traffic congestion, forcing the service to pay for mass transit or simply raising revenue on any service.

Chicago added 15 cents to its existing 52-cent fee on ride-hailing services last year. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has proposed a budget that would impose an additional 37-cent fee on each $10 trip as a way of helping to pay for the city’s share of new Metro funding.

This month, the New York General Assembly passed a budget that includes new congestion surcharges on taxis and ride-hailing services in Manhattan. When the law takes effect in January, people who use a ride-hailing app below 96th Street will pay $2.75 per trip, while those in a yellow cab will pay $2.50, the New York Post reports.

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The city measure, introduced by Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr., takes aim only at ride-hailing drivers, exacerbating tensions between different classes of drivers. Moira Muntz, a spokeswoman for the Independent Drivers Guild, said the costs required to begin working as a ride-hailing driver, including fingerprinting and insurance, have already been steadily increasing. And yet, so have the drivers.

“At every corner, they have three or four, five drivers ready to pick up,” Bah said.

Bah, a Senegalese immigrant who left a job with a cable company four years ago because the flexibility of ride-hailing fit with family needs, said he has seen his take-home earnings plummet from those early days as governments tack on new fees and more and more drivers flood the streets. He estimates his earnings have been cut in half. In an op-ed that ran in the New York Daily News last week, he said professional drivers, whether for taxis, livery services or Uber, are all facing a growing economic crisis.

“Slashed pay and worker exploitation have left the city’s 100,000 for-hire vehicle drivers and our families on the brink of poverty,” he wrote.

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