It’s been a tumultuous year for Seattle-area taxi drivers who’ve lost much of their business to increasingly popular phone-app ride services from companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.
But it hasn’t been an easy ride for drivers of the app-based dispatch services either.
That’s why about 200 of them gathered in Tukwila Sunday to formally coalesce as an association. The App-Based Drivers Association elected its first leadership council and established bylaws for about 500 drivers who expressed interest in joining. The association is made up of drivers for so-called rideshare services — legally referred to as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) — and luxury ride services such as UberBLACK and UberSUV.
In addition to anxiously waiting to see how the City of Seattle would regulate TNCs, app-based drivers have dealt with Uber, Lyft and Sidecar changing their business models in preparation for those regulations.
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That’s made it difficult for them to know whether investing in their cars and the job as a full-time gig is worth it, said UberBLACK driver Daniel Ajema, 34. Ajema, along with others, spent the last year trying to pull together drivers from different apps.
Contract drivers — who sometimes invest tens of thousands of dollars into cars, commercial insurance and licensing — should have more of a say in how the companies operate, he said.
“We’re a significant part of their moneymaking, but we don’t have a seat at the table,” said Ajema, who’s driven for Uber for two years while attending Seattle University’s law school. “We also want to make sure that there is a fair firing process.”
The association and its advocating organization, Teamsters Local Union 117, have said that Uber in particular has bumped drivers off without a fair firing process.
Brooke Steger, Uber’s Seattle manager, said that sometimes drivers are permanently suspended after an annual background check finds criminal or driving offense activity. Additionally, drivers are given constructive feedback following complaints. If the issue is not resolved, drivers may receive a three- to seven-day suspension or permanent suspension.
Many Uber drivers are former taxi drivers who found it liberating to invest in their own vehicles. Drivers without a taxi license of their own would often pay more than $400 a week to lease a vehicle.
Some drivers believe Uber has not always been fair in how it has dismissed drivers. But they also wonder how much better off they’ll be in the future with Uber in control instead of a taxi license owner.
Several drivers who showed up at the Sunday gathering were worried about Uber finding out about them joining the association. Steger says they have no reason to worry, though: Uber has no plans to penalize anyone joining the association, she said.
“Everyone is free to do that — it’s their right and we’re not going to keep that from happening.”
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.