Rather than pay for expensive leases from traditional taxi companies or give up a portion of their earnings to startups like Uber and Lyft, many taxi drivers are banding together to form their own taxi cooperatives.
In these co-ops, each driver is an equal owner of the business, with a share of the profits and a voice in how the business is run. Denver, Colorado has one taxi co-op, Union Taxi, founded in 2009 with about 250 driver-owners. Now cab drivers in the city are already talking about setting up a second taxi co-op.
“We’re actually seeing a mini-explosion of interest in taxicab co-ops,” says Melissa Hoover, executive director of the Democracy at Work Institute. “These groups are responding to the same weaknesses in the industry that Uber is, but from a perspective centered around bettering workplace conditions, worker control, and compensation rather than ‘disrupting’ the model to benefit investors at the expense of workers.”
Drivers in a cooperative get to collaboratively establish their pay, the hours they work, and their working conditions–no small matters in an industry that employs many recent immigrants.
“It’s a way of achieving the American Dream for them, which is to own their own business,” says Lisa Bolton, president of Communication Workers of America Local 7777, which is helping the cab drivers set up the new cooperative.
In addition to the drivers already in Union Taxi, there are nearly 650 more cab drivers in Denver who want to start a new cooperative, according to Bolton. While some drivers who want increased autonomy may look to Uber and Lyft, most are more enticed by the prospect of owning and running their own business.
“They’re not part-owners in Uber and they don’t have a lot of control over any of the rules or their working conditions,” Bolton says. “I think taxi cooperatives are a growing movement. I think that it’s also a really good, innovative way to for the labor movement to help people fight for workers’ rights.”