UberBLACK drivers are hurting.
Back when Uber launched in Philadelphia and the flagship, pricier UberBLACK was the only option on the market, business was good. But after Uber launched its lower-cost option, uberX, last fall, demand dropped off. Now, uberX competitor Lyft is operating in Philly, too.
The UberBLACK vs. uberX issue been a problem for Uber in its other markets for as long as uberX and UberBLACK have coexisted. This Philly UberBLACK driver Facebook group encouraged drivers to have “one voice,” united against uberX last fall. The Philadelphia Parking Authority, seemingly trying to capitalize on the discontent, and even asked UberBLACK drivers to snitch on uberX-ers. (UberBLACK drivers are licensed “black car” drivers; uberX drivers are regular drivers using their own vehicles.)
In what appears to be a response to this unrest, Uber Philly is encouraging UberBLACK drivers to drive uberX. UberBLACK drivers can get $30/hour guaranteed, if they drive uberX on the weekdays or full-time, according to an alert from Uber that we got our hands on. The message went out about two weeks ago.
It sounds like Uber is trying to give its UberBLACK driver the best of both worlds: “If you chose weekday uberX trips — we will turn off your uberX requests from Friday evening until Sunday morning, so you can maximize UberBLACK earnings on the weekends,” the message reads.
This is a shift from what went down in New York City last fall, when Uber essentially required UberBLACK drivers to take uberX customers. They backtracked on that shortly after, and Slate reported that it was because drivers threatened to strike.
When asked if Uber offered this deal to its drivers as a response to driver unrest, spokeswoman Kaitlin Durkosh responded: “We’re always offering our partners new ways to maximize their earnings, as we’re constantly striving to provide the greatest reliability for riders with pick ups in a matter of minutes. We routinely offer partners guarantees as a way to help eliminate uncertainty for those who are exploring different hours or new platforms to drive on.”
The guaranteed rates have made a difference for UberBLACK driver Shakir Ullah. Before the guaranteed rates, Ullah said things had been bleak. He was going to have to find a new job because he couldn’t make ends meet. Now, it’s a little bit more secure, he said.
It’s not by any means a perfect deal. UberBLACK drivers have more expenses than uberX drivers since most of them have purchased or leased a car specifically for the job. (Ullah, for example, pays $500 per week in car payments and insurance for his SUV.) While it’s not ideal, it’ll do for now, Ullah said.