Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn. on Tuesday, October 6, 2020.
Ride share drivers rarely cross paths. A typical workday is never the same. They don’t have a route or even a set range. The app tells them where to go, and they follow.
However, at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, drivers from all over the state find themselves in the same “queue.” Frustrations and complaints among drivers who met in the cellphone lot at BDL came to a head Wednesday when about 25 rallied in East Hartford and drove a caravan to the State Capitol in hopes that lawmakers and the ride share companies would hear their plight.
“Lawmakers have to put more pressure on the companies,” said Sohail Rana, senior organizer with Independent Drivers Guild. “We are trying to put through ride to bargain legislation so drivers can sit across from these companies and bargain for their own rights. We need a seat at the table.”
Drivers gathered behind The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Lodge in East Hartford to prepare signs and change into their Independent Driver’s Guild T-shirts. Since ride share drivers are not employees, but independent contractors, they cannot form their own union, but exist as a sub-chapter of IAM.
The drivers said chatted amiably before the caravan departed, most saying they had met the other drivers at BDL.
“I found out they were forming a party that was going to fight for rights for us to get better benefits, pay and to speak on what’s going on out here,” said Gordan Doran, an Uber driver from Hartford.
Customers need rides from the airport frequently, so Uber and Lyft set up a virtual line in the cellphone lot at BDL. Drivers wait so they can be immediately ready for passengers who get off the plane.
“Uber and Lyft want a single-minute response from drivers in major metropolitan areas and at airports, but they aren’t compensating drivers for this,” said Bill Hearn, an Uber driver in the Hartford area.
There, as many as 30 rides hare cars will wait. The cars are numbered on the virtual queue. While demand is high for Ubers and Lyfts at the airport, sometimes drivers will wait up to three hours to get a passenger and leave the queue.
Drivers are not paid until they match with a passenger, so the waiting time is in the hope it will pay off with a lengthy ride, but not too long. They do not find out the destination of the passenger until they enter the car — the app won’t let them see.
“Sometimes you wait two hours in the queue and they give you a 16-minute ride,” said Wahid Ganga, an Uber driver from Waterbury. “You cannot decline because if you decline more than two times you lose your spot, even if you have been waiting for three hours. And that is going to affect your rating.”
If the passenger needs to go somewhere out of state like LaGuardia Airport, the driver will not be allowed to pick up any other passengers in New York. Connecticut ride share drivers cannot pick up out-of-state passengers so the drive back from LaGuardia is unpaid.
“Drivers of course are paying for all of their gas,” Hearn said. “They aren’t getting paid for tolls on the way there, and they certainly aren’t getting paid for return tolls.”
If a driver needs to leave the queue to use the bathroom, they will be sent to the back of the queue, forced to wait behind the sometimes 30 other cars that are ahead.
“This is not a demand,” Rana said. “It’s a basic human need.”
Ryan Tenny, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Airport Authority, said that the authority is looking into the possibility of a toilet in the future. He said that drivers could come in the airport to use the bathroom like members of the public, but if drivers leave the lot, they lose their spot.
“The cellphone waiting lot is a public lot intended for short-term waiting; however, given unfortunate sanitary circumstances that have surfaced and the resulting maintenance burden that has fallen on CAA staff members, the CAA was already evaluating portable toilets to improve the overall cleanliness of the area and improve the facilities to all users of the cellphone waiting lot,” Tenny said.
Rana said a portable toilet is the bare minimum.
“It should be a trailer where you can wash your hands and have a proper toilet,” Rana said. “If you are a woman driver, you cannot hold pee for four hours.”
For each time an Uber or Lyft picks someone up at BDL, there is a $2.25 fee added to the passenger’s total that goes to the airport. Rana said that since the airport is making money off of the service, the airport should give back to the drivers that make that service possible.
The complaints the drivers shared about working as a ride share driver were numerous and drivers. Most highlighted the crushing toll that gas prices were taking on the amount of money they took home at the end of the day. Others said that Uber was seizing their tips.
Some complained about the control the app has over their lives and workday. Ganga said he thinks the app and the company knew about the rally because drivers headed to the event set the IAM Lodge as their destination before going offline.
“You set a destination, I want to be in this place at this time,” Ganga said. “They should give you all the rides going in that direction. Today they dropped my destination off the app three times. I put the destination as here and they took it down three times. I am pretty sure they know we are going to protest here.”
The Independent Drivers Guild formed in 2016 in the New York City area as an agreement between Uber and the IAM in New York City. Rana said that the Independent Drivers Guild in Connecticut has nothing to do with Uber, but another local group, Connecticut Drivers United, is skeptical.
“IDG is trying to create groups paid by IDG to destroy the real benefits of workers,” said Carlos Gomez, founder and senior organizer at Connecticut Drivers United. “CDU says IDG is not welcome in CT. Return to New York.”
Rana said that ultimately, organizations aside, the event is about the drivers and the demands they have.
“Uber and Lyft drivers are being exploited by these companies,” Rana said.