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February 23, 2017

Milton Street: Drivers need to fight back against uberPool's 'slave wages'

Uber Milton Street
Milton Street, Uber Driver Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

Milton Street, a former Pennsylvania state senator and Philadelphia mayoral candidate, planned to organize fellow Uber drivers to fight back against the UberPool fares. Now, he's running for a state house seat.

Inside the Dunkin Donuts at 15th and Locust streets, Milton Street contemplated the deeper meaning of the $2.04 receipt he was handed Thursday morning after buying a medium coffee.

These days, Street’s gig is that of a part-time Uber driver. The white Toyota Camry he uses in that profession sits in a loading zone across the street, its hazards flashing to fend off any Philadelphia Parking Authority intervention.

Street – a former state politician, perennial city candidate and well-known rabble rouser – noted that he just spent more on that cup than he gets for the average uberPool fare. About this, he is not happy. He's found that there’s not much he can do to fix the situation, though.

Taking those minuscule routes is part of the agreement that he, and all drivers, sign at the onset of their participation. He said that if he doesn’t, he runs the risk of Uber deactivating the app on his mobile phone, thus rendering him unable to snag any of the more lucrative UberX rides.

So, Milton being Milton, he’s plotting his latest foray into the public's consciousness. 

This time, he's looking to organize some 12,000 peers against the company that's responded that they're already working to improve the system based on input from drivers. It also said that Street's disabled-app theory is a little off (more on that later).

"We recently made a number of changes to uberPOOL based on what we've heard from drivers." – Craig Ewer

He’ll host a press conference on Tuesday morning in an effort to alert the public and rally fellow drivers to push back against the ride-sharing app in the name of being paid farer wages in the future.

“I’m asking all drivers to reject uberPool,” he explained while thumbing through a list of his recent Uber rides. “It’s not that I don’t think that Uber is a good service. It is. But, exploitation of the work force brought about labor unions. I just don’t like the exploitation.

“At the very least, Uber should make uberPool voluntary, but they won’t. If it’s voluntary, the service will shut down because the drivers just don’t want to do it.”

For evidence, he pulls up a recent fare from Center City's Wanamaker Building to I Street and Hunting Park Avenue. For the 10-mile fare, he cleared $1.78 after Uber took its 60-cent fee.

It was one of many $1.78 fares he received for uberPool rides, in which drivers take three passengers to various locations. He noted that he’s had passengers get out of his car once they realize how far the route takes uberPool riders out of their way in the name of saving a few dollars.

He broke the uberPool system, as he's experienced it, down like this: Driver gets a fare, then two more fares for that same ride which can take the original passenger out of his or her way en route. For those two additional fares, the driver receives just $1.78. To Street, that's not fair compensation.

“We’re forced to take rides like this. It’s the only way you can drive through the Uber app,” he maintained. “uberPool pays way below the prevailing wage. It grossly underpays people. The only way to deal with Uber on this is to form an ‘Uber Drivers Association.’”

He pointed north to New York City where drivers formed an Independent Drivers Guild after friction regarding the company’s push to have UberBlack drivers take less-lucrative UberX fares, as his inspiration.

Street said Thursday that he’s researched the state legislature’s process in examining Uber and passing legislation that Gov. Tom Wolf ultimately signed into law

He said he doesn’t think they were presented information about the uberPool shortcomings in that process and has reached out to his nephew, newly minted state Sen. Sharif Street, to get the minutes of those debates.

“I don’t believe the legislature would have passed that legislation if they knew the policies of ride-sharing was going to exploit poor people and force them to work for slave wages,” Street said. “In order to make a decent living wage, it takes 60, 80 hours, even in a private car. It’s grossly unfair, and I believe it violates labor laws.”


Street's call for action comes at a time that Uber has faced an avalanche of bad press (see hereherehereherehere and here).

Craig Ewer, a spokesman for Uber, responded to a request for pre-emptive comment. He said the company has already heeded drivers' complaints about the system.

"With uberPOOL, drivers are able to spend more time on a trip, which means reliable earnings and less time without a paying customer in the back seat," the company's response read. "We recently made a number of changes to uberPOOL based on what we've heard from drivers and we will continue to use that feedback to make the experience more enjoyable and effortless for riders and drivers."

Those changes were outlined in a post on Uber's website. He also noted that "drivers are not required to accept uberPOOL trips. ... Per our terms of service, if a driver's overall acceptance rate dips below a certain level, they may receive a warning or be temporarily blocked from using the app."

He broke down drivers' earnings in Philly POOL rides as $1.10 per mile and $0.17 per minute, and noted that the drivers' share will never be lower than $6.20 for an overall POOL trip.

"One point of confusion that we intend to fix via an app update is that earnings on an uberPOOL trip currently break down rider by rider, which is likely why this individual saw $1.78 for part of one trip," he said. "Our update will show earnings for the entire trip from start to finish."

Street said he expects to have that press conference at 11 a.m. Tuesday either near Uber’s Bartram Avenue offices or at the “hold center” where drivers await fares near Philadelphia International Airport. He said those locations are ideal because that’s where drivers tend to congregate.