A group of local Uber drivers unhappy with the rideshare company's compensation system staged a strike Friday, and a local ride-hailing startup may reap the benefits.
The recently formed Rideshare Drivers Association of San Antonio called on Uber drivers to take part in "A Day Without a Driver" on Friday. Instead of driving for Uber that day, several of the drivers told the Rivard Report they would be driving for San Antonio-based rideshare company Leep.
However, it was unclear whether Uber customers or the company felt the effects of the work action. In several checks of the Uber app Friday, it appeared that Uber drivers were available downtown.
Reached by email, an Uber public affairs representative declined to comment on the strike.
The strike comes more than two years after San Antonio rideshare drivers shut down their apps to protest fares being reduced from $1.79 per mile to 90 cents – resulting in a decrease in income for some drivers. Since then, gasoline prices have jumped, and drivers said changes in the company's surge pricing model have negatively affected their pay.
"Do not participate in rideshare economy today," states a digital flyer the group has been disseminating on social media. "Demand for higher fares and better pay."
With about 60 members, the rideshare drivers association represents only a small portion of Uber's local drivers. But recent posts on a San Antonio Uber Drivers Facebook page with more than a thousand members indicates growing dissatisfaction with the company's compensation model, with drivers including screenshots from recent trips that point out their thinning slice of the pie.
Uber collects booking and service fees from any trip. The drivers keep a portion, including a per-mile and per-minute rate as well as promotional rates such as surge pricing during peak rideshare use.
The company's online fare estimator Friday calculated that an UberX ride, the app's low-cost service, from west downtown to the South Texas Medical Center would cost $17.27 with a per-mile rate of 96 cents and a per-minute rate of 10 cents – likely resulting in the driver being paid about $12 and Uber about $5.
But drivers can sometimes take less than half of the total payment for a trip, according to a receipt posted in the San Antonio Uber Drivers Facebook group on July 25. The passenger paid $23.76 for a half-mile, 5-minute trip. The driver received $11.71 in payment while Uber collected $12.05.
Robin Lyerla, who drives for Uber, Lyft, and Leep, said many drivers work exclusively for Uber and could not afford to strike.
"I'm blessed to not be in that position," said Lyerla, who is one of more than 200 drivers on the Leep platform. Leep is currently in a beta testing phase in preparation for a formal launch in the next 60 days, Chief Technology Officer Matt Carter said.
Driver Rudy Cruz said he is striking because other means of communicating his concerns have not been heard.
"Given the circumstances, we have no choice but to get together and send them a message," Cruz said, adding he planned to speak to potential Uber customers at the San Antonio International Airport Friday to share information about how Uber calculates its fares and pays its drivers.
Cruz acknowledged that the strike, which also drew participation from Uber drivers in Austin, may have come too soon after recent organizing efforts to have an impact.
"This is just the beginning," he said. "There are many people who have never participated in things like this, and there are some that are afraid of retaliation."
One Uber driver who spoke to the Rivard Report about the strike declined to give his name because he feared Uber would deactivate his driver account.
The company has a feedback portal on its app for drivers, but Cruz and Lyerla said they do not feel Uber is listening to their concerns.
Leep may offer an alternative. Since launching in early May, the rideshare service is concentrated in the areas of the Unversity of Texas at San Antonio, the Pearl, downtown, and Southtown.
Carter said Leep's drivers receive 80 percent of a fare, with the company getting the remaining 20 percent.
The startup has also formed a drivers advisory board. Thirteen of the 200-plus drivers registered locally on the app sit on the board. The group acts as consultants, advising the company on everything from passenger complaints to marketing. Carter said the app has gone through 16 versions so far, and a majority of the enhancements have come as a result of driver feedback.
When asked how Leep could overcome the duopoly that Uber and Lyft have on most rideshare markets, Carter pointed to such examples as Juno, a rideshare company that has gained traction in Manhattan as an alternative to Uber and Lyft. Like Leep, Juno touts a "socially responsible" ethos as it collects lower commissions from trips than its competitors.
Lyerla, one of Leep's founding drivers, said despite the challenges of organizing as subcontractors and not employees of Uber and Lyft, San Antonio drivers have the power to capture the ride-hailing giants' attention and effect change.
"[Drivers] are the backbone of the company," Cruz said. "They have no company without the cars."