Travis Kalanick, Uber's pugnacious founder and CEO, took to Facebook a few hours ago to post a link to a five-month-old blog post about the improving quality of life of uberX drivers in New York City. Three hours before, a group called the Uber Drivers Network posted an open letter to Kalanick and his investors on Medium, taking their beef with the company's recent fare cuts directly to the man in charge.
The dueling posts are a sign that Uber's driver problem is not quieting down, especially as the court date for a class action lawsuit challenging the way the ride-hail company classifies its drivers grows near. In the letter, the drivers' group demand Kalanick meet with them to discuss their grievances.
"Without drivers on the platform, it'll be of no value."
"It is crucial that you reconsider the fact that Uber without us, the drivers, cannot be sustainable," they write. "We provide the vehicles, pay the insurance, cover the gas and all other cost associated being a driver and a transportation provider. Your technology is great, but without drivers on the platform, it'll be of no value to any consumer seeking a ride."
It seems likely that Kalanick's Facebook post — which compares three Septembers of uberX fares and earnings to conclude that life as an Uber driver in the country's biggest city was a damn good job — was meant to serve as a direct response to the driver letter. "Earnings per hour in NYC continue to go up year after year, especially after price cuts..." Kalanick muses.
The blog post he linked to features a testimonial from a smiling uberX driver named Samuel Nunez, who is quoted saying he earns $60,000 a year while driving only three days a week. This flexible schedule helps him pursue his real dream: singing. It's unclear, though, if his annual salary reflects the many expenses drivers must bear, including insurance payments and vehicle upkeep. And many drivers in New York City say that drive more than three days a week, and longer than 10-12 hours a day, in order to earn a decent living.
Uber says its drivers earned an average gross $39.30 an hour last September, which was 6.3 percent more than the hourly wage year over year. Uber is notoriously stingy with its earnings data, routinely refusing requests to publicize more than just a glossy sketch of earnings and hours of its workforce of independent contractors.
"Earnings per hour in NYC continue to go up."
Earlier this week, the Uber Drivers Network organized one of the largest protests of drivers outside Uber's offices in Long Island City, Queens. At least 400 drivers showed up to rail against the recent 15 percent fare cuts, which Uber insists is only temporary and meant to combat against slower winter months. But drivers say they were losing $300 a week in earnings, forcing them to drive longer hours to make up for it.
The drivers are giving Kalanick until February 8th to respond to their demand to meet. But an Uber spokesperson says the company has already reached out to the protestors to arrange a sit-down, though if anyone it will probably be with the company's New York City general manager, Josh Mohrer. The spokesperson also released a statement that again touted the flexibility of drivers.