Uber Technologies Inc. drivers in New York City are protesting against the mobile car-booking company’s rising commissions and lower fares, posing the latest stumbling block for the startup as it races to expand.

The drivers, who dub themselves the Uber Drivers Network, temporarily stopped working yesterday and sent an e-mail calling a meeting for colleagues today at 4 p.m. in Woodhaven’s Forest Park Drive. Some drivers said Uber is now leaving them with just 62 percent of fares, after the San Francisco-based company initially agreed to give them 80 percent of the price of a ride.

“After they raised their commission last year and then cut fares this summer, I couldn’t make money,” said Hatem Maher, 49, who is from Queens and drives a 2014 Yukon for Uber’s SUV service.

Uber has faced opposition from taxi drivers worldwide as it has up-ended the transportation industry. The protest in New York, which is the company’s biggest market by revenue, indicates disgruntlement within the service’s own ranks. That could potentially crimp Uber’s efforts to recruit new drivers as it rolls out its service in more cities globally. The company, started in 2009 by CEO Travis Kalanick and co-founder Garrett Camp, raised $1.2 billion in a June financing that valued it at $17 billion.

“We are constantly looking for new ways to enhance driver earnings,” an Uber representative said.

The issue of how Uber treats its drivers has already found its way to court. Labor lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan has sued Uber in Suffolk County Superior Court in Massachusetts twice — once in 2012 and again this year — for issues including allegedly withholding gratuities from drivers.

Higher Fees

Uber typically charges a 20 percent commission on rides. In March, it raised the fee it takes for its pricier black-car service to 25 percent from 20 percent. Uber also charges a 28 percent commission for trips on its SUV service.

In New York, Uber temporarily cut fares for its cheaper UberX service by 20 percent in July. Some drivers said that the reductions have since become permanent.

Drivers for the black-car service and SUV service also said Uber last week told them they must take requests to drive passengers for the less-expensive UberX, or lose access to the app. Maher said he declined to do so and was suspended by Uber for 24 hours earlier this week.

Uber said today that its black-car and SUV drivers can now take UberX requests only when they want. An Uber representative said the company doesn’t have a policy of suspending drivers who don’t take UberX ride requests.

The New York drivers group also plans a second demonstration in front of Uber’s Long Island City office on Sept. 15.

Not all drivers are participating. Adam Cosentino, who has been driving for Uber in New York for the past two years, said he isn’t aware of the protest and wouldn’t join it.

“I’m not complaining because I’m still busy and I make money,” said Cosentino, who drives for UberX.

To contact the reporters on this story: Matthew Miller in New York at mtmiller@bloomberg.net; Serena Saitto in New York at ssaitto@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Pui-Wing Tam at ptam13@bloomberg.net. 

Tags: labor, nyc, sharing, uber
Photo Credit: The Uber app. Skift