UPDATE 5:30 p.m.
Pennsylvania Democrats and their national guests will have a choice tonight: attend an Uber party, or side with Uber drivers, cab drivers and ADA advocates claiming abuse by the company.
A coalition known as Fair Ride Philly will be picketing in front of an exclusive DNC Uber party at 11 p.m. and asking delegates and other politicos to not cross and enter. The group wants to raise awareness for what they consider unfair wages paid by Uber, the company’s lack of concern for disabled riders and the plight of 17 Philadelphia Uber Black limousine drivers they say were recently banned for working for the ride-sharing service under murky circumstances.
This protest is the latest in the two-years-long feud between Uber, taxi companies, the PPA and Uber’s own drivers and comes after a month of change in Philadelphia’s ride-sharing sector. First, the PPA agreed to temporarily allow UberX, which has technically been illegal since its launch in October 2014. Then the Fair Ride Philly coalition sued to nullify the arrangement. But Uber responded back by getting lawmakers to legalize it through September in a last-minute budget deal.
Neither the PPA nor Pennsylvania’s lawmakers have been unclear about their motives for temporarily legalizing UberX. They did it in large part so Philadelphia could look good for the Democratic National Convention.
Uber spokesperson Craig Ewer declined to comment on tonight’s planned protest.
Last week, Uber reached an agreement so UberX could operate out of the PHL Airport, leading to complications for Uber Black Drivers, who are licensed limousine drivers and have nicer cars than typical UberX drivers.
Uber Black driver Ahmad Maghtha said he would usually have to wait an hour or so to get a rider at the airport. Maghtha said that changed when UberX became available.
“They killed us,” he said.
He and others were waiting seven or eight hours and not getting one passenger.
The system for Uber Black at the airport works similar to the way it does for cabs. Drivers wait in a line for the next available customer. When rides started becoming scarce and wait times long, some drivers wanted to be able to get away for a while but not lose their place in line. They would “lock” their location so it appeared they were still at the airport, drive elsewhere and return in time when they were closer to the front of the line.
Maghtha said they asked Uber for permission to do this and never heard back. But when he and 16 drivers were caught doing this last week, they were deactivated, meaning they won’t be allowed to drive for Uber again.
“We did it out of frustration, man,” Maghtha said. “Drivers are still doing it as we speak.”
Ewer said Uber was responding to drivers who were scheming the system and had received complaints from other Uber Black drivers complaining about the situation.
“We have zero tolerance for any fraudulent behavior that makes it tougher for the vast majority of honest drivers to receive ride requests,” he said.
Maghtha had been driving for Uber the last three and a half years. He said he has a $600 weekly payment on his car that will be difficult to pay off without Uber.
Ali Razak, president of the Philadelphia Limousine Drivers Association, which represents the Uber Black drivers, said he has no problem with UberX. But he wants it to be regulated in a similar way to cabs and Uber Black and fair treatment for the drivers.
Lou Agre, a Bernie Sanders delegate, is calling for delegates to skip the Uber party.
“If the PA delegation would boycott an anti union, anti minimum wage, discriminatory Koch Brothers company,” he said in a release, “then the PA delegation should boycott the Uber reception.”