Courtesy of Naomi Ogutu
- Naomi Ogutu is the president of the NYC Rideshare Club, which advocates for app workers.
- Ogutu says rising gas prices and the loneliness of the job are challenging, but the pandemic showed how essential rideshare services are.
- This is their story, as told to Jamie Killin.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Naomi Ogutu, the president of the NYC Rideshare Club. The club is an organization that’s part of the Justice for App Workers coalition, which advocates for app workers. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
I’ve been an Uber driver for six years, and now I’m the president of the NYC Rideshare Club. Our club is part of a larger coalition, Justice for App Workers, which includes nine rideshare groups. We recently staged a caravan protest in Manhattan over how rideshare apps are handling the rising gas prices.
Skyrocketing gas prices aren’t something we were planning for. It’s not something we expected. It just happened.
With higher gas prices, we now have to dig deeper into our pockets
It’s cutting into our personal budgets, and we’re having to go without some necessities that we need in order to be able to fill our cars and drive.
I have a Chevy Suburban SUV. Before, I could fill it with gas for $65 or $70, but now it’s going up to $140 or $150. That only lasts me for a day or two, depending on the trips that I get. We want New York to look at us and know we’re important to this city, we’re humans, and we have rent to pay.
With these gas prices, many of us can’t even pay some of our essential bills. There’s just no money.
Even our driving strategy has changed because of it. We used to cruise around looking for the places we were most likely to get a ride, depending on demand trends around the city.
Now, you’ll find someone just staying at one location and waiting. But you have to be careful not to double park or park by the hydrant, because there are traffic police out there. It’s disrupted everything.
We saw during the COVID-19 pandemic how essential our services were
We delivered food to the elderly and the sick. We were the ones going up to a sixth-floor apartment in marginalized areas taking food to a grandmother who couldn’t go out to get food during the pandemic.
Uber implemented gas surcharges to cover higher fuel prices, but we’re not even getting that in New York City. It’s going to other places, because Uber claims we already got a pay increase here. We’re demanding they include us in that and provide gas stipends, but even still, that’s just a short-term solution.
The long-term solution is to cap the companies’ commissions. These companies shouldn’t pass these unforeseen expenses to passengers or drivers. They should take a cut, because as drivers, we’ve been carrying all the expenses — from gas and maintenance to toll fares on return trips.
Driving rideshare is a very lonely job
It’s only you and your phone, so it’s very, very hard for drivers to know what’s going on. That’s why we formed this coalition of 100,000-plus drivers, because we want to have one voice and a way for companies to talk to us as a group.
We need these companies to come to the table and work with us on a variety of issues. We’re trying to get a fair wage and have the companies cap their commission at 10%. Sometimes the companies take up to 40% from drivers, then 6% from others. I don’t even know the formula they use to calculate that. It’s never transparent.
We’re also fighting against unfair deactivation of drivers, for access to clean bathrooms, to create a union and we want better mental-health care. Those are just a few issues.
The way we get there is by putting a lot of pressure on them. We’re optimistic they’ll respond.