The Uber Drivers Network, a vocal group of Uber and Lyft drivers who have organized strikes and protests in New York City, will soon have a new tool to wield in their battle for better working terms. As early as this month, instead of petitioning Uber and Lyft, the group plans to launch its own ride-hailing app to compete with them.
"It is the ultimate solution for our problem," Abdoul Diallo, one leader of the group, tells Fast Company. "Because without drivers, there is no Uber."
Diallo says the group has been working with a development company for about a year to design and produce the app, which the group currently calls "Swift."
Diallo was hesitant to provide details about the app before it launches, but he says the goal will be to route profits back to the drivers. "How it will be structured at this point, we don't know," he says. "But the goal is that drivers will have an ownership stake in the company. There is going to be profit sharing. Everyone will have equity who works for the platform."
A video posted on the Uber Drivers Network Facebook page over the weekend shows an app interface that looks much like that of Uber or Lyft. "A platform for drivers by drivers," reads an attached status update. "We, drivers, provide the cars and EVERY expense related to the business, the only thing ‘they’ provide is the app. Now we have our OWN!"
Many have argued that a co-op isn’t practical as a competitor to a goliath like Uber. But Janelle Orsi, an Oakland-based lawyer who specializes in sharing economy issues, still believes it could work. "The companies themselves have very few assets," she told me in an interview last year. "They don’t own cars, and they don’t own infrastructure, they don’t own hotels. They just own a software platform and a lot of clout. And if that clout goes away, then they just have software. And lots of people can create software."
Many drivers accept jobs from more than one ride-hailing app, switching between Lyft and Uber, for instance, depending on which one offers better rides at the time. Startups that aim to compete with these companies hope that drivers will still sign up even if their apps cannot, at first, consistently connect them with customers. At least two other Uber drivers, one in Missouri and one in New Hampshire, have said in public forums for Uber drivers that they plan to create ride-hailing apps, but neither has yet materialized. Early-stage startups DriverCars and Juno have promised ride-hailing apps that treat workers better than other companies.
Juno founder Talmon Marco says that his company will reserve 50% of its equity for drivers and remit a relatively low 10% commission. He plans to save money on recruiting drivers, which is a significant expense for platforms like Uber and Lyft, and says that, though the company has not yet launched, "thousands" of drivers have already signed up. "The company is not about hugging trees," he says. "The company is a business."
Diallo and other drivers have protested against Uber and Lyft fare cuts—like those both companies instated this January—as well against increasing commissions and policies that require drivers for Uber's luxury car service to also take jobs at its cheaper UberX rate.
Uber, which refers to its drivers as "partners," argues that when fares go down, their drivers make more money because more customers use the app, decreasing the amount of time drivers spend idling between rides. An Uber spokesman says that drivers in New York are earning 17% more per hour than they were before the price cut, and that the amount of time they spend waiting for their next fare has been cut in half.