Uber drivers kick off 'Global Day of Protest'

The ride-sharing app's drivers in the US and London are complaining about fee hikes, fare cuts and the lack of a tip option.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read

Uber drivers gather in front of the company's San Francisco office to protest fare cuts and fee hikes. James Martin/CNET

Uber driver discord appears to be reaching a boiling point.

In the latest dustup for the ride-sharing service, drivers in six cities, including London, staged protests in front of Uber's various offices. Their complaints include Uber raising fees for its service in some cities and maintaining price cuts in others. Another common complaint with drivers is that users can't give tips to their drivers.

"We're trying to have a voice, period. With Uber we've never had them," said Ayda V., a driver who was protesting in San Francisco and didn't want to be identified for fear of retaliation. "They've always made the rules and we just have to follow them, we're not asked anything ever."

The protests are the newest pile-on for Uber, which was founded in 2009 and currently has a valuation of $18.2 billion. Users have flocked to the ride-sharing service and others like it, such as Lyft and Sidecar, which let drivers use their own car to give strangers a ride -- acting as impromptu taxis. Uber takes roughly a 20 percent commission from each ride.

The flood of users to these ride-sharing apps has brought about questions from regulators and contention from taxi companies. Regulators in many cities are grappling with how to let these services operate safely and legally and exist in the same market as cab companies.

Uber in particular has become a central figure in these battles, igniting taxi protests in Paris and London. The service, along with other ride-sharing apps, has also been served cease-and-desist orders from regulators in Pennsylvania, Virginia, California and other US states.

Now on top of the woes with taxis and regulators, Uber drivers are throwing in their own complaints. While many drivers say they appreciate the service, some say the company isn't treating them fairly.

One group of roughly 60 drivers gathered in front of San Francisco's Uber office on Wednesday carrying signs that read, "Uber is bullying their drivers" and shouting slogans like, "Uber, Uber, you can't hide. We can see your greedy side." Dozens of Uber cars slowly drove by honking their horns in solidarity.

One of the drivers' top complaints has been fare cuts, which they say has amounted to lower hourly wages across the board. In July, Uber cut its fares in several cities and in September it announced those reductions would be indefinite. Uber's idea for the fare cuts was to attract more customers to its service, saying that they would bring more business to drivers.

Many drivers say, however, that Uber is pushing their pay down, not up. One driver at the protest, Ethan Carothers, was particularly upset with the fare cuts. He said when he started driving a year ago he was paid $2.35 per mile with an $8 minimum, now he's getting $1.35 per mile with a $5 minimum.

In addition to San Francisco, drivers organized protests in Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Chicago and London. In New York City, instead of picketing the Uber office, many drivers instead turned off their Uber phones.

"Our phones will be OFF as a strike against Uber," reads the Facebook page for the New York City Uber drivers network. "Join us to show them that WE make Uber and that without us, they don't exist!"

An Uber spokesman disagreed with the protesters complaints, however, saying its service saves "hundreds of thousands of drivers" from having to pay the typical rental fees to drive a taxi, while ultimately helping them make money quicker.

"Uber powers entrepreneurship by providing the tools to build a small business," the spokesman said.

The protesters in San Francisco said their goal was to sit down with Uber's upper management and go over what they think needs to be changed with the service. One Los Angeles-based driver, Frank Siegel, who did not participate in today's protest, said he has "done well" with Uber in the past but he's also seen his income drop. He doesn't begrudge Uber for this situation but he does believe the company needs to better communicate with its drivers.

"I think the drivers are being fair in how they're dealing with this," Siegel said. "As Uber contemplates making any significant changes with the income of drivers, there should be some forum to discuss that."