tipping point

Fare’s Fair: $500K in Back Pay Demanded for App-Hail Drivers

Pedro Acosta has been driving with Uber for six years.
Pedro Acosta has been driving with Uber for six years. Photo: Jose Martinez /THE CITY

Drivers for app-based ride-hailing companies figured they were in for a pay bump starting in February.

But new figures from the Taxi and Limousine Commission show about 50,000 of them were short-changed on about 200,000 trips in February and March.

“It can never be the case that you go to work and you’re not getting paid,” said Johan Nijman, 63, who drives for Lyft and Uber.

Officials with the TLC on Thursday said Lyft, Uber, Via and Juno will be hit with a $500,000 bill for trips that were below the minimum pay standard that took effect on February 1.

“The goal is for drivers to get paid so restitution would be the first thing we pursue,” said Bill Heinzen, acting TLC commissioner. “We have other options for companies and bases that refuse to pay, that increase in severity.”

The commission adopted the minimum-pay rate in December, making New York the first city in the country to set such a standard for drivers for app-based ride-hailing companies. Under the new rules, drivers are guaranteed $17.22 an hour, based on a formula that sets minimum payments per trip based on time and distance.

‘I Expect to Get Paid’

TLC officials said underpaid trips per day spiked at around 35,000 in early February as the ride-hailing companies “perfected their pay formula.” That figure has since plunged, but officials said the companies will get the bill.

“I expect to get paid for what I worked,” said Pedro Acosta, 61, who drives for Uber. “That’s money that they owe us.”

Ride-hailing app drivers pack a TLC meeting in Lower Manhattan on April 25, 2019.
Ride-hailing app drivers pack a TLC meeting in Lower Manhattan on April 25, 2019. Photo: Jose Martinez /THE CITY

The readjustment amounts to about $10 per driver, or $2.50 per trip.

“That’s nothing. We all deserve more,” Acosta said.

Lyft criticized the TLC’s figures, saying the company hasn’t been informed of them, and that any underpaid trips amount to a fraction of the rides taken by for-hire vehicles.

A Lyft spokesperson said the new TLC report “appears to contain extensive misinformation,” adding that the company has “ensured drivers earned at least the minimum” since the pay standard took effect.

“We’ve complied with the rules since day one and if the TLC informs us of any mistake, we will correct them,” Uber said in a statement.

Representatives for Via and Juno did not respond to requests for comment.

The ride-hailing companies have upended the city’s traditional taxi industry in recent years. Close to 80,000 vehicles that can be booked via apps have flooded city streets, sending once-coveted taxi medallions — which are capped at 13,587 — plummeting in value.

A medallion on a New York City Taxi
A medallion on a New York City Taxi Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Taxi medallion owner Carolyn Protz said the city is now having to contend with not having earlier limited the number of for-hire vehicles on its streets. The City Council last year put a one-year cap on new licenses for such vehicles.

“It’s the number of cars, it’s the number of cars, it’s the number of cars,” Protz said. “If there were fewer cars on the road, then all these guys would be making more money.”

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