Should Uber be Responsible for their Drivers’ Actions?

As usual, there’s a lot going on in the news of rideshare! The Netherlands has determined that Uber drivers are employees instead of independent contractors, Uber Eats is offering a tiered pricing structure to restaurants and Uber Eats is starting to use convenience stores as part of its deliveries. Also, what responsibility does Uber, or any gig company, have over drivers’ actions? Let’s dive into this week’s roundup with senior RSG contributor Paula Gibbins.

Uber Sued for Failing to Deactivate Mass Shooter Prior to Kalamazoo Rampage (Gizmodo)

Summary: A passenger who rode with Jason Dalton—the Uber driver convicted of a 2016 shooting spree in Kalamazoo, Michigan—is suing Uber for allegedly misrepresenting its safety protocols and failing to provide an incident report service.

The passenger, Matt Mellen, claims that, hours before Dalton’s deadly rampage, the driver careened through the streets so recklessly that Mellen called 911 and attempted to contact Uber support. Dalton then shot and killed six people and injured two others.

In the complaint, filed in February, Mellen claims that, on the afternoon of February 20, 2016, Dalton trapped him in the car (or, “kidnapped” him) and hit a passerby. The suit reads:

“…the two barreled down crowded Kalamazoo city roads at break-neck speeds. Matt Mellen yelled for the UBER driver to stop, to pull over….pull over!…to let Matt out. Then a dead-bang impact. The UBER driver smashed into a totally innocent person/people in a car that was in the wrong place….then the UBER driver kept going…unfazed as if nothing had just happened.”…

My Take: Like many articles these days, I think the headline is a bit misleading. It implies that the mass shooting wouldn’t have happened if Uber had deactivated him earlier. But what the article really gets into is that Uber’s safety response team, which is supposed to be available to drivers and passengers 24/7, was not available at the time a passenger needed it, according to the lawsuit.

Despite the driver’s claim that “the app turned him into a “puppet” and that a horned devil with a cow’s head would materialize on the screen whenever the app sent him a job”, I don’t think him being deactivated on the app sooner would have prevented any of the disturbing things he did.

Many people are pointing out Dalton likely would have found a reason or a way to do all of this whether he was a driver for the app or not.

Others point out that, even if Uber deactivated this driver immediately, it wouldn’t have necessarily immediately stopped his rampage.

We’ll keep an eye on this lawsuit, as I’m sure there is more to come.

Uber Eats, Postmates deploy tiered pricing structures (Restaurant Dive)

Summary: Uber Eats and Postmates today announced a new tiered pricing structure, with 15%, 25% and 30% fee plans.

Uber Eats began testing new fee offerings in late 2020 based on feedback from partner restaurants, and the platform’s new pricing was created with input from thousands of U.S. operators, Sarfraz Maredia, vice president of U.S. and Canada for Uber Delivery, said in a statement emailed to Restaurant Dive.

Uber’s restaurant delivery arm is the last of the major third-party delivery aggregators to implement tiered pricing options for restaurants. DoorDash launched its three-tiered commission fee structure in April, while Grubhub also offers tiered commission plans….

My Take: It feels to me like this is a response to fee caps that cities and states have been putting on delivery apps like DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats. This sounds to me like a way for Uber Eats to take control of the situation and move the pieces of the puzzle to be how they want them to be.

It always sounds great on paper, but are mom and pop restaurants able to afford it? Is there a happy middle ground for the restaurants and the delivery apps?

Lula and Uber Team Up to Offer C-Store Delivery (CStore Decisions)

Summary: Grocery delivery service Lula and rideshare application company Uber announced a partnership that will empower thousands of convenience stores to offer on-demand delivery to customers through Uber Eats.

C-stores are ubiquitous — with a store located under three miles away from each household. C-stores are an essential part of the U.S. economy, with nearly 165 million transactions daily according to the National Association of Convenience Stores.

However, a large majority of c-stores are unable to offer last-mile delivery. This is predominantly due to infrastructural issues with brick-n-mortar retail, with a lack of technical resources within c-store locations.

While there are over 150k c-stores nationally, these stores have had difficulty making the switch to digital. Lula and Uber’s partnership aims to bridge this gap through Lula’s virtual c-store offering….

My Take: This move is not surprising in the least. DoorDash already had their own marketplace for buying convenience items on their app, so it was only a matter of time before Uber Eats started offering convenience items as well. What one company does, the others must follow, these days.

They are all just going to do everything and either keep sharing the marketspace or buy each other out.

Dutch court finds Uber drivers are employees (Tech Crunch)

Summary: Uber has lost another legal challenge in Europe over the employment status of drivers: The Court of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, has ruled that drivers for Uber are employed, rather than self-employed contractors.

The court also found drivers are covered by an existing collective labor agreement in the country — which pertains to taxi drivers — meaning Uber faces increased costs to comply with the agreement which sets pay requirements and covers benefits like sick pay. (And it may be liable for paying driver back pay in some cases.)

The court also ordered Uber to pay €50,000 in costs.

The ride-hailing giant has some 4,000 drivers working on its platform in the Dutch capital.

The Amsterdam court rejected Uber’s customary defence that it’s just a technology platform that connects passengers with taxi service providers — finding instead that drivers are only self-employed “on paper”.

The judges highlighted the nature of the service being provided by drivers and the fact Uber exerts controls over how they can work and earn through its app and algorithms….

My Take: Further down in the article it mentions something about Uber saying they have “no plans to employ drivers in the Netherlands.” Does this mean that any driver who is currently working for Uber will lose their job if Uber’s appeal doesn’t work the way they want?

Uber did let TechCrunch know that they are appealing and that it will not affect drivers currently using the app throughout the appeal process, but what if the appeal doesn’t go the way they want? What then?

Unfortunately, it always seems things like this never fall in favor of the drivers. What do these drivers want? What do these drivers deserve?

Are you a driver in another country? Would you want to become an employee, or do you prefer the independent contractor status?

-Paula @ RSG