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‘Getting worse, worse, worse.’ Uber/Lyft drivers in Seattle try to get a raise

An Uber driver near the San Francisco International Airport.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
FILE - In this July 15, 2015 file photo, an Uber driver sits in his car near the San Francisco International Airport.

Fasil Teka of Renton said he drives for Uber and Lyft seven days a week, 12 hours a day, to get by.

He said driving passengers around used to be a good way to make a living in Seattle, but no longer.

“I got pushed out of the city to the suburbs because I cannot afford the rent,” he said.

Teka said Seattle’s rising cost of living, combined with falling pay rates from the app-based ride-booking firms, sometimes called transportation network companies, forced him out.

“The TNC companies are controlling the price,” he testified before a Seattle City Council committee Tuesday.

“We got called partners, but we are treated like an employee, and the city has to do something about it,” he said.

Seattle City Council appears poised to try to intervene.

Council President Bruce Harrell said at the committee hearing that legislation is on the way in coming weeks to help boost drivers’ pay.

“This council has a proven record of trying to protect driver rights,” Harrell said.

Uber claims its drivers in Seattle typically make between $19 and $21 an hour before expenses, or between $12.54 and $18.06 after expenses. The company has not disclosed the math behind its claims and declined to be interviewed for this story. 

Uber driver Endris Mohamed testified to the city council committee that his experience is different.

“Always is getting worse, worse, worse. My expenses always is going too up. The driver payment is going too down, even not minimum wage.”

“We are proud of the earning opportunities available to Seattle drivers through Uber, and we are committed to continue providing the resources and information drivers need to maximize the money they can make out there on the road,” a statement emailed by Uber spokesperson Nathan Hambley said.

Nationally, drivers for these companies typically make between $8.55 and $10 an hour after expenses, according to transportation researcher Stephen Zoepf at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University. Zoepf revised his figures after Uber’s chief economist critiqued a paper he co-authored claiming drivers earned much less per hour.
Seattle’s minimum wage is currently between $11.50 and $15.45 an hour, depending on the size of the employer and whether employees also receive tips or medical benefits.

The companies and their drivers have been clashing for several years over pay and drivers’ right to unionize as independent contractors.

Uber and Lyft have supported legislation to create statewide regulations for their line of business – and pre-empt cities like Seattle from doing so — but that legislation died in the state Senate in February.

Now Seattle is setting its sights on better pay for drivers.

City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda told drivers testifying Tuesday that fair pay is even a safety issue.

“Your work has value, and we need to be rewarding you for that work, especially in light of fact that an Uber driverless car killed a pedestrian yesterday,” she said. “We need you more than ever to protect the safety of our community, and we need to be there to protect your rights as well.”

Uber suspended tests of its self-driving vehicles after one of them killed a 49-year-old woman walking her bicycle in Tempe, Arizona, Sunday night.

Year started with KUOW: 2009