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Uber, Lyft strike hits big cities as drivers protest low wages

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5/8/2019 Chris Woodyard
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Video by CBS News

Finding an Uber or Lyft became harder in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities Wednesday as drivers went on a work stoppage to call attention to what they consider to be low wages and lack of job security.

The protest came against the backdrop of the two ridesharing giants making a play for investors, with billions of dollars in play, at a time when their drivers say they are earning peanuts. Lyft recently started selling shares to the public and Uber is on deck.

The protests varied by city. In the Big Apple, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called for a work stoppage from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. EST. In Los Angeles, Rideshare Drivers United urged drivers to shut off the smartphone apps they use to locate passengers for 24 hours starting at 12:01 a.m. PST.

Protests were also expected in Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.

"We want Uber to answer to us, not to investors," said Sonam Lama, an Uber driver since 2015, in a statement released by the alliance. "The gig economy is all about exploiting workers by taking away our rights. It has to stop."

The length of the protests were directing more business to taxicab companies, who have seen their business decimated by advent of ridesharing. But it was hard to estimate just how much of an impact a work stoppage would have, said Allan Fromberg, deputy commissioner for the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

He said New York has tried to help drivers by taking action in January, setting a minimum pay at $17.22 an hour after expenses. Under the new rules adopted by the commission, some 96% of ridesharing drivers were expected to see a boost of $10,000 a year.

Some cities, like New York, are more dependent on taxis and ridesharing than others. But even in Los Angeles, ridesharing has become a way of life for those without their own cars.

Shan Gupta of RideYellow, which operates a taxicab fleet covering much of Southern California, didn't offer an estimate of which business he expected to pick up, but does see it as an opportunity.

"We would love for people to give our service a try," he said in an email. 

Drivers, however, say they are motivated by seeing the billions of dollars being tossed around as part of the two companies' plans for stock offerings.

Uber is seeking to raise $1 billion through its initial public offering. The company, which said in its IPO filing that it has paid out $78 billion to drivers since getting its start in 2009, had 2018 revenue of $11.3 billion. It had an operating loss of a little less than $1 billion for the year.

Lyft sold its shares to the public for the first time last month. It reported Tuesday that it lost $1.1 billion in the first quarter mainly because of $894 million in costs tied to its IPO.

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