Lyft Driver Criticized for Refusing to Work for $6 an Hour

A Lyft driver is under the gun after dropping a passenger off at an LA parking lot because he realized he was only going to make $6 an hour.

A pilot for what they’re calling a “major” airline was running late for work the other morning when he called a Lyft.  The first driver cancelled the trip before he arrived at the pilot’s pickup location.  So, the pilot called again and got the driver who is now in the spotlight.

This driver, whose name we are never told, picked the pilot up.  We are told that the pilot’s first name is Darryl.  Once Darryl got in the car the driver found out the trip was to LAX airport.  It turns out he had just come from there and it took him 15 minutes from the time Darryl placed the call until he reached Darryl’s location.

Now, going back to LAX was going to be a 30-minute trip, thanks to traffic.  So, the driver calculates and figures out he’s only going to make about $6 on the trip.  The distance was about six miles.

In this video, KTLA-Los Angeles only shows a few seconds of their encounter although there was a longer version of that video, which has since been taken down.  In this short clip though, you can see that the driver was perfectly polite to the passenger.  You can also tell he’s very annoyed that it had to come to this.  But it’s obvious he has resolved to no longer work for such low hourly pay.

Darryl described the incident saying, “He … picked me up, I loaded the bag and we, and we started to leave, and then I guess he looked at – the destination popped up on his phone at that time, and then he got very frustrated,” Darryl said in a Skype interview to KTLA. “He did not want to go back to LAX.”

Darryl then proceeds to inform the driver that he was a pilot – about which I am sure the driver was very impressed!  He then informed the driver he was late for a flight.

The driver was expressing concerns about how little he was going to make on the trip and shortly afterward pulled into a Trader Joe’s parking lot and told the passenger he was ending the trip due to the fact that he would only make about $6 an hour if he continued.

At this point, Darryl began recording the exchange.  “Say why you’re doing this again?” Darryl can be heard asking the driver. “I’ve done nothing wrong and you’re kicking me out of the car?”  The driver responds, “I have the right to refuse service,” before saying he just came from LAX and after “45 minutes of driving” he will only make $6.  “That doesn’t sound right to me,” the driver said.

“Dude. I used the app to get a driver. You came and picked me up. And now you’re just dropping me off in a parking lot?” Darryl asks.

The driver then apologized and told Darryl, “I’m sorry man, I can’t make $6 an hour.”

What Do People Expect?

Online, people have roundly criticized this driver for not taking his passenger to his destination.  They’ve said the driver was wrong for not finishing the trip.  Some have offered him the helpful advice of getting another job.

It was stunning to me to see how completely unaware most people are of the conditions drivers work in.  I doubt that Darryl the pilot thinks drivers should work for $6 an hour.  I also doubt he had any idea that they were.  When told this by his driver, he couldn’t even respond to it, he changed the subject.  He said, “Dude, I just used the app to get a car and you came to pick me up and now you’re just dropping me off in a parking lot?”

Well, yes, he did use the app to get a car.  A car owned, paid for and driven by a driver who is going to make $6 for this particular hour.  What Darryl and many of the commenters I’ve seen failed to realize though – is that the driver didn’t know where the passenger was going until after the passenger got in the car!  So he didn’t know it was going to be a $6 fare until it was too late.  Because Lyft and Uber don’t show drivers where the passengers are going until after they accept the call.

It’s like Darryl couldn’t even process the information that the driver was only making $6 an hour – all he could think about was that he was entitled to a trip – which was probably costing him only about $9 or $10.

When you work as an independent contractor however, you are not at your “client’s” beck and call.  You don’t have to accept every job they send your way.  You, in fact, have the right to refuse a call and to cancel a trip once in progress.  Since you’re not an employee they can’t force you to accept or complete every trip.  That’s in their terms of service as well.  Drivers have a perfect right to end a trip if they decide it’s not worth their time.  That’s what being an independent contractor, rather than an employee, is all about.

Here’s a comment from YouTube that was all too typical:

“It’s not the pilot’s fault the Lyft driver is working for $6 and hour. The passenger doesn’t set the fare. If the driver is disgruntled, quit and find a better paying job. It is unconscionable to just leave a passenger stranded after agreeing to take the passenger to the destination.”

This person is right, it’s not the pilot’s fault Lyft is paying $6 an hour.  But, it’s not the driver’s fault either.  And as an independent contractor, if the driver doesn’t want the job for less than a certain amount, he is under no legal or ethical obligation to take it.

Her advice to the driver to just quit and find a better paying job was great.  I’m sure he would if he could.  And I’m sure he will someday, but for now this is what he has.  And if all drivers took her advice, there would be no more Uber or Lyft.  No more easy, cheap way for people to get around.

This commenter also said it was unconscionable to “just leave a passenger stranded”.  Well, it would be unconscionable if the driver had actually left Darryl stranded.  The definition for stranded is, “left without the means to move from somewhere.”

So we see that the driver didn’t exactly leave Darryl stranded.  He left him in a Trader Joe’s parking lot in the middle of the second largest city in the country!  And Darryl showed just how un-stranded he was when he was able to quickly get another Lyft and was only 15 minutes late to work!  He was definitely not, “left without the means to move from somewhere.”  Stranded would be if the driver had dumped him 150 miles away in the middle of the desert!  A Trader Joe’s parking lot in the middle of LA isn’t stranded!

Lyft and Uber constantly talk about how the free market sets the prices.  And it is Lyft’s and Uber’s responsibility to set prices that customers will pay.  But, it is also their responsibility to pay drivers an amount they’ll be willing to work for.  They have to balance the two sides of the equation.  They can’t charge passengers an amount that is so low drivers won’t be willing to work for it.  And they have hit the point where prices are too low.  This driver was simply the first to become publicly known for refusing a trip because of low pay.

But he is by far not the first driver to have done this.  Drivers at New York airports routinely call passengers after they accept their ping to ask where they’re going.  If they’re only going five miles away, they’ll hang up and wait for the passenger to cancel the call.  If you’re a passenger, I know this sounds all wrong – and it is!  But it’s what drivers are forced into by the low pay.

And drivers who do airport pickups have it even worse.  They have the low pay on top of a long wait time for a passenger.  People don’t realize this, but drivers can and do (for whatever reason I have no idea, but they do) wait at the airport anywhere from two to six hours for a call.  Well, after waiting say, three or four hours – the driver wants to make darn sure that his time isn’t going to be totally wasted!  A five-mile trips that nets him $7 isn’t going to be tolerated by most drivers.  So, that’s why they call to find out the passenger’s destination.

I even refused a few trips a few years ago when Uber dropped rates in New Jersey to untenable levels.  I got to the point where when I got a call to take someone to JFK from New Jersey, I would refuse the trip.  Here’s how the money worked out on that one:

  • Uber charged the passenger around $57.
  • That included a $20 fee for crossing through the Lincoln or Holland Tunnels.
  • It also included $5.76 for another toll in New York City.

So, out of the $57, $26 of it was for tolls!  That leaves a total of just a $31 fare.  Uber (or Lyft) would then take 25% of that, leaving the drivers with $23.  However, the tunnel toll cost us $13 so we got to keep a $7 bonus out of the $20 toll charge.

So, adding the $7 bonus to our $23 in earnings, gave us approximately $30 in earnings.  But, on the way back, we had to either pay another $5.76 toll that we weren’t reimbursed for or take a toll-free route that would take an additional 30-45 minutes for us to get back.  I always opted for the additional toll because I’d get back sooner and could start earning again.

It would take an hour and a half to get to JFK during morning rush hour and it would take another hour and a half to get back… if we were willing to pay the second $5.76 toll – that we wouldn’t be reimbursed for.  If we paid the toll, our net earnings on this trip would be around $24.50.  It sounds okay, until you look at how much time the whole round trip took.  Oh, and by the way, we weren’t allowed to do any pickups in New York – so we couldn’t drive again until we got back to New Jersey.

At a minimum it would take 3 hours round trip before we were back in New Jersey and able to drive again.  So, we’d earn $25 for three hours of work.  That comes to $8.33 an hour.  If we took the longer but toll-free way back, we would earn about $8.60 an hour but we’d be out of commission for an additional 30-45 minutes.

Once I figured this out (after about two experiences with it), the next time I got a call to JFK, when I got to the passenger’s pickup location, I saw they were bringing suitcases out.  So, I asked which airport they were going to.  They said, “JFK”.  I then very politely apologized and told them I couldn’t do it.  They looked absolutely stunned – and angry.  They demanded to know why I wouldn’t do it.  They told me they had called an Uber and I had to take them wherever they wanted to go.

I said, “I’m really sorry, but I’ll only make about $8 an hour due to the low rates they pay us, plus the tolls.  So, I can’t afford to do it.”  I then cancelled the trip on the app and drove off.  I’ll never forget the look of shock on their faces.  It was upsetting to me as well.  I hated turning down passengers and I hated that they were getting this kind of service.  But, what could I do?  It just wasn’t worth it for $8 an hour.

Today in New Jersey, most morning Uber and Lyft drivers won’t take passengers into New York City at all even though it’s a quick 30-minute trip.  A lot of New Jerseyans work in New York City so they’re routinely turning down a lot of business.  You’d think they’d love these trips because they’re longer and they get an extra $7 for the toll going into New York.  But so many uberX and Lyft drivers today will call each passenger they get in the mornings and ask where they’re going – before they even bother heading to their pick up location.  If the passenger says New York, they’ll cancel the call.

Many New Jersey passengers have learned if you want a car during morning rush hour to New York, you have to call a uberBLACK or Lyft Lux.  Black car drivers are more than happy to take them to the city – because they get paid four times more than uberX drivers.  So, they have no problem at all with these trips.

That’s the lesson of this story.  If you want drivers to take you where you need to go – you’re going to have to pay them enough to do it.  No one’s going to work for sub-minimum wage.  Not for long anyway.  If you do pay them enough, they will happily take anyone wherever they want to go.

My prediction is that this is going to start happening more and more frequently.

The Pilot Who Complained Too Much

Darryl the pilot, doing his best to sound like a victim, told media outlets that he was just trying to get to work on time.  He complained that the driver made him late.  But after the driver explained the reason he was ending the trip was because there wasn’t enough money in it, you would think Darryl might have slipped him a $5 or a $10 to continue.  The driver made his reasons clear for ending the trip.  If Darryl had really been so desperate to get to the airport on time, why didn’t he just offer him a cash tip on the spot?  It sounds like Darryl was more interested in causing trouble for the $6 an hour driver than he was in actually getting to the airport on time.