Uber drivers protest company's latest rate cut

Downtown Tampa was full of Uber drivers during Thursday's rush hour, but not to provide the ride share service that boasts more than 8 million users worldwide.

Instead, nearly 30 drivers gathered in Lykes Gaslight Park to protest the recent rate drop for local drivers, from $0.95 a mile to $0.65.

“I was just barely making it at $0.95,” said Jason Meyers, who has been driving for Uber for 16 months. “So when it went to $0.65, you can't really afford to drive it anymore. With maintaining the safety of your car and everything else, it's a lot with fuel and everything else. We're not making a whole lot, less than minimum wage.”

With the percentage that Uber takes out of driver's wages, combined with insurance, gas and upkeep of their own vehicle which Uber provides no assistance on, this latest cut has caused many drivers concern over the possibility that they may operate an Uber vehicle at a net loss.

“We've already got gas prices, insurance, everything that we have to pay,” said Uber driver Ronaldo Suliveres, describing his situation. “Some like me have gotten new cars. I've got a $350 payment every month. It's unfair. I have a family and Uber came in handy to stabilize my life and my family's life. Now it comes and cuts it out of nowhere. That puts a hole through all the positive things that have been happening.”

With Thursday being the first day of action for the drivers, there was already a noticeable response, at least downtown. With so many drivers off of the service, Uber's notorious surge pricing, which is factored on how many drivers are available at a given time, went up to 1.4 percent of the regular rate during the protest, a rarity for a Thursday afternoon. Rumblings among some drivers suggest that if Uber doesn't quickly address their concerns, drivers will stage more boycotts during peak times, potentially as early as this weekend in the Soho area and possibly event during Gasparilla, one of the highest-demand events in the region for Uber.

“This is only the beginning,” said Meyers. “A lot of these drivers won't stop until something happens. If we don't get an answer or something by the time Gasparilla rolls around, there's probably going to be a lot of angry customers. We don't want that, but we just can't drive for that much.”

A blog post on Uber's website announcing the rate drop explained it was due to a seasonal slump, provided certain guarantees if quotas were met and promised that rates would rise once again when demand allowed. If enough riders know about the low rates, they'll do the math and realize that taking an Uber at 65 cents per mile can be cheaper than driving somewhere when one considers gas and parking costs. That, in turn, could drive prices back up.

Those at Lykes Gaslight Park were skeptical of these claims, pointing out that similar promises have been made since Uber began lowering rates from the original $1.80 it offered.

“I actually started when it was first lowered to $0.95,” said Uber driver Tanya Forister, who bagan working for the company last April. “A lot of people weren't happy about that. It was only supposed to be temporary, so I was okay with that. Then it never changed. ... A lot us kept emailing them asking about it and they just kind of skirted the questions. We'd get a lot of formal responses back, but people would get different reasons and different explanations. What I've learned is that you can't always believe or trust what they say. That's really sad for a corporation that's grown so big and so fast because of the drivers. And now it's dropped again”