HARTFORD – Xavier Fontanez, a full-time rideshare driver who lives in New Haven, starts his days at 5 a.m. He works until 2 p.m., breaks long enough to pick up his daughters from school and drop them at home, then continues driving until 9 p.m.
Fontanez, who has been working as a driver for five years, said he used to make $300 to $400 a day. But since the pandemic, he said, prices have been dropping. Now, according to Fontanez, a long day of driving earns him about $200.
“They’ve lowered the prices five, six times already,” said Fontanez.
Multiple drivers gathered outside of the Capitol on Wednesday echoed Fontanez’s experience, saying that over the last few years they had watched the amount they were able to earn on apps like Lyft, Uber and Doordash drop further and further. Many were members of the nonprofit Connecticut Drivers United, a coalition of delivery drivers started in 2020.
James Delewski, a rideshare driver from Southington, told CT Examiner that he used to be able to get $50 for a trip from Greenwich to New York City. Now, he said, the same trip will earn him $25 — although the customers are still paying the same amount.
“My rent’s due tomorrow. I made $34 yesterday in four hours,” said Delewski.
A bill being heard in a public hearing on Wednesday would try to address this by setting a minimum wage for drivers that work for rideshare apps and delivery services. Transportation companies like Uber and Lyft and delivery companies like DoorDash and GrubHub will be required to pay drivers 85 percent of the fare that is charged to the passenger, or a minimum of $1.30 per mile plus 60 cents per minute worked by a driver.
The state’s commissioner of labor will be required to make yearly adjustments to the hourly rates based on inflation and the cost of gasoline.
State Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, chair of the Labor Committee, said at the press conference that she had helped represent taxi drivers in the past, many unionized, but that the protections they receive haven’t yet been extended to app-based drivers.
“There’s a lot of advantage to having this new technology and the … convenience for people who need to travel from place to place, but what we haven’t done is taken into consideration the impact on people that are doing the driving,” said Kushner.
Drivers at the press conference held up photos of trips they were offered by the companies showing the amount they paid per trip.
Alex Johnson, a driver who spoke at the press conference, held up a poster of a trip that paid $5.71 for three deliveries — a trip estimated to take a total of 45 minutes.
“I’m just sick and tired. I love my job. I want to do my job, but they’re literally pricing people out of working and we cannot do it anymore,” said Alex Johnson.
Several drivers said they enjoyed the flexibility of the work, and of “being their own boss.”
Deborah Douglas said she used to work as a Class A truck driver, working app-based driving on the side. About a year and a half ago, Douglas said, she decided she didn’t want to be out on the road all the time, and decided to shift to app-based work full time, mainly for Uber.
But while she used to be able to earn $1600 to $1800 per week with the service, she said that amount had dropped to less than $1300.
Driver Shernelle Wilson from Waterbury presented the legislature with photographs of delivery trips she had completed: $2.53 for a 17-minute trip. $5.60 for a 33-minute trip. $3.60 for a 20 minute trip.
Tanveer Singh, a law student intern for the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School who helped draft the bill, cited in his testimony a report from the UCLA labor center that found that Uber and Lyft took 20.7 percent of passenger fares last year, compared to 9 percent in 2019 — the first year that New York implemented its minimum pay rates for drivers.
Singh said that few other states have regulations in place governing wages for delivery drivers. He said that New York requires minimum pay rates under the Taxi and Limousine Commission. A bill introduced in Colorado would require the rideshare and delivery companies to disclose information about how they calculate fares and terminate drivers, and two introduced in Massachusetts would create a pathway for these workers to unionize.
“If anything, I think Connecticut is trying to reach what other states have experimented with,” Singh told CT Examiner.
The companies respond
Uber, Lyft, Doordash and Instacart all submitted testimony in opposition to the bills, arguing that the increased wages for drivers would mean higher costs for customers and a possible decrease in demand for services, as well as a negative impact on the local economy.
Josh Gold, senior director for public policy and communications for Uber, said in written testimony that the bill’s wage requirements “would make Connecticut one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive markets in the Country.” He estimated that the new rates would result in a 158 percent increase in the amount that Uber passengers would have to pay, which could mean fewer people using the app. He said it could also hurt the restaurants that depend on apps for delivery.
Gold hinted that the higher rates could cause Uber to leave Connecticut completely.
“Guaranteeing drivers 85% of rider fares may make operating in the State untenable given the high cost of insurance required by the state, payment processing, state required background checks and other costs borne by the company,” warned Gold in testimony.
He also pushed back on what drivers said they were earning. He said that between October and December of last year, drivers earned an average of $34.47 per hour, and that most drivers used the app less than 20 hours per week.
Brendan Joyce, the New England public policy manager for Lyft, raised similar points. He said that the increased prices would have a negative effect on their passengers, particularly those who are low-income. According to Joyce, 68 percent of rides in Connecticut begin or end in “low-income areas.”
Joyce said that the bill would actually hurt, rather than help, drivers, as higher prices cause people to avoid using the rideshare or delivery apps. Joyce quoted an earnings report from Lyft that showed that drivers increased the number of rides they gave by 17 percent from the third quarter of 2019 to the third quarter of 2022, and that they were earning 7 percent more than last year.
“Thousands of Lyft riders travel throughout the state every day, spending more at local businesses, and staying out longer because they have a reliable ride home,” Joyce wrote. “Lyft is directly contributing to Connecticut’s economy during a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty and increasing inflation, and [this bill], by dramatically increasing fares for riders all over the state, would severely limit this contribution.”
The bill was also opposed by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and the Connecticut Retail Network.
Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Network, said that increased costs for delivery and rideshare would put more pressure on the state’s small businesses which depend on the delivery apps. He also said the bill could cause there to be fewer drivers available at peak times.
“Inflationary pressures across the economy have a disproportionate impact on retailers, particularly smaller, family-owned businesses that have less capital to lean into when revenues don’t hit projections,” Phelan said. “Additionally, inflation is expected to continue throughout 2023. Now would be the worst time to adopt Senate Bill 1180 and make essential services like rideshare and delivery drastically more expensive for Connecticut businesses and consumers.
“Making a killing”
Beyond raising wages, the bill requires companies to provide receipts to both the passengers and the driver of the mileage driven and the amount paid to the driver, as well as the cost of any fees. They will also have to provide information about deliveries and rides to the Labor Department.
Companies said they were already providing workers with information. Christina Kennedy, New England government relations lead for DoorDash, said the company gave drivers “detailed breakdowns” that included the pay for each delivery, the customer tip and any bonuses the driver earns.
But the drivers argued in their testimony that these cost breakdowns do not show how the company determines the amount a driver receives, and don’t show passengers how much their driver is receiving, which could influence how much a passenger decides to tip.
Under the proposed bill, companies would also have to compensate drivers for canceled deliveries or rides, pay for any vehicular damage or maintenance and pay tolls accrued during travel.
Elvis Carranza, a driver who lives in Rocky Hill, told the Labor Committee that the wear-and-tear on the car he leased to do his driving meant that he wasn’t able to return the car.
“I bought my lease back for my car after 5 years. However, I had put so many miles and depreciation to the car that I could not return my lease which severely affected me financially,” said Carranza.
Like the others, Carranza said in his testimony that fares had dropped — a trip from New Haven to Hartford’s Bradley Airport, which used to pay $120 in 2018, now pays $45.
“[The companies] are making a killing and we’re killing our cars,” Greg Bing, a driver from Bristol, told CT Examiner. “Expenses, everything — they don’t look at that.”
The bill also attempts to address another problem — drivers who travel outside of Connecticut are not allowed to pick up fares on their way back — meaning that a driver returning from JFK airport or Boston can’t make money on the return trip.
Driver Jesenia Rodriguez said in testimony that she had spent an entire day driving a customer to New York, thanks to traffic jams and bad directions from a customer. She said she made less than $30 for the trip, which took her seven hours one-way.
Singh said that the bill would open up an avenue for Connecticut to negotiate with other states to establish a reciprocity agreement. Currently, drivers from New York and Massachusetts are allowed to pick up people in Connecticut on return trips.
Singh said they would have liked to go further and include things in the bill like worker’s compensation, but that they recognized the need to focus on the immediate necessities of the drivers.
“For now, what drivers need is sustainable pay,” said Singh.