UberX Dodged a Possible Driver Strike—For Now

Contrary to rumors, there were more drivers on the road than the previous week.

By | Boston Daily |

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Two weeks ago, drivers from Uber bailed out parents by picking up their kids after some rogue bus drivers decided to go on strike. But yesterday, UberX workers reportedly threatened to have a strike of their own.

Luckily for Red Sox fans scrambling to get to Fenway—likely in an attempt to avoid the Green Line—the strike never happened. In fact, UberX had more drivers on the road, picking people up, than they did a week prior to the threat of a walk-out, according to officials from the company.

“We have not seen any impact to availability or service levels thus far. We’ll continue to keep a close eye on this and will keep you posted on any changes,” they said in a statement, as the hours ticked away Wednesday afternoon, when the strike was supposed to happen.

The rumor about a possible strike stemmed from a Tweet sent out by Boston Globe columnist Scott Kirsner, which circulated in the tech sector pretty rapidly, and fueled worries that customers wouldn’t be able to get picked up for Game 1 between the Red Sox and Cardinals.

Word in the alternative-cab world was that UberX drivers—there are roughly 500 in Boston alone— were frustrated with changes to Uber’s new fee structure for the price of a ride using their UberX option. UberX is a cheaper version of their black car service, which was launched to compete with the local taxi business.

Andrew Parker, a VC in Boston with Spark Capital, said he heard about the possible strike from a driver around October 18, but at the time of the conversation with his driver it seemed like speculation, and a knee-jerk response to the news about the price cuts.

On his blog, Parker wrote:

The driver said that UberX recently changed their fee structure in such a way that adversely affects drivers. Uber brought all the drivers together to the Boston office to announce the change, in an open “townhall-style” meeting format. Prior to this meeting, none of the UberX drivers knew who each other were, so they had no way to collectively organize and coordinate their actions and requests.

Uber officials admitted, in a subsequent post on Wednesday, when additional threats of a strike resurfaced, that it’s difficult to find a balance between keeping riders and drivers satisfied. In lowering fare prices for people using UberX, they thought it would increase demand, as they have seen in other cities. “Lower fares have resulted in greater gross income for the transportation providers we partner with,” Uber representatives said. “In fact, Boston’s UberX drivers are earning 22 percent more per hour since Boston’s UberX fares dropped.”

They said this additional income has also resulted in a 5 percent increase in the amount of time that drivers are spending on the system, resulting in 30 percent more income per week for drivers since slashing prices.

But, of course, they couldn’t please everyone, and in the minds of the drivers, lowering fare prices meant less daily income.

While drivers didn’t bail out on their jobs Wednesday, Uber is continuing to monitor the situation, especially since another busy night of travel to and from Fenway Park is expected for Game 2 of the World Series.

“It almost seems too good to be true, but what we’ve seen in cities across the country is that with lower costs, Uber becomes more accessible to more people, increasing demand for rides,” they wrote. “We will continue to monitor this marketplace to ensure that riders and drivers are getting the best value possible.”

On Thursday morning, UberX drivers were still on the roads, ready to pick up passengers.

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