On the same day that Uber got bad news from the California Labor Commission, the New York Post reports another ill omen for the technology-company-and-definitely-not-a-car-service everyone loves to hate and use anyway: NYC has impounded nearly 500 Uber cars since April in a sting against illegal “street hails.”
The NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission limits drivers of black cars and livery cars to pre-arranged trips. They’re not allowed to compete with taxis for spontaneous street pickups. But that’s apparently what 496 drivers did between late April and this week, and they had their cars seized for their trouble.
Uber officially prohibits its drivers from picking up random street fares, but it also doesn’t pay for or own the cars its alleged non-employees drive. If those drivers start using their vehicles to make some money on the side, they bear all the risk themselves.
There were 14,000 Uber cars registered in NYC as of earlier this year, which is technically higher than the number of yellow cabs on the road, but Uber doesn’t even come close to cabs when it comes to ride volume or hours driven.
One theory about the uptick in illegal fares, put forth by the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, is that Uber alone isn’t enough for a driver to get by in NYC.
“If you’re willing to risk breaking the law, you have to be willing to lose your car,” taxi federation president Fernando Mateo told the Post, “I would recommend, go back to the basics. Everyone has an app. You can’t make a living with just the Uber application.”
Mateo is obviously biased when it comes to Uber, but there might be something to that. At the beginning of this year, Uber cut its fares dramatically across the U.S.—great for passengers, but not so great for drivers. In a blog post, the company assured drivers that they’d actually make more money because demand would go up.
Overall, demand has increased. But as a human being, we can only drive maybe three trips in one hour. If you give me 300 trips, that won’t do me any good. That demand is for other people, not for me. So cutting the rate is increasing the total business, but the driver is worse off than before.
With Uber cutting profits for individual drivers (but profiting itself from the increased overall demand), it wouldn’t be that surprising for struggling drivers—who in some cases invested in new cars just to drive for Uber—to risk going outside the system to ensure their cars actually make them money.