In Chicago, public transit is essential to access cultural amenities like restaurants, bars, and clubs. However, public transit in Chicago isn’t perfect leaving taxis, Ubers, and other ridesharing apps opportunities to succeed where the El and bus lines falter in transporting Chicagoans across town on time and with ease. But over the last few years, rideshare workers have faced hostility from both passengers and rideshare corporations, which has led to a new phenomenon: the permanent deactivations of driver accounts, cutting off these gig workers from their source of income.
To combat these often-abrupt deactivations, Ald. (10th Ward) Susan Sadlowski Garza introduced legislation on Wednesday, January 18 to the City Council to protect rideshare drivers in the event corporations attempt to deactivate their accounts. At present, rideshare workers have no guaranteed protections in place in Chicago that allow them to appeal companies’ decisions to ban them from working on their platforms. Local lawmakers have adopted similar protections elsewhere in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.
These rideshare companies, chiefly Uber and Lyft, deactivate driver accounts after passengers complain about the driver’s performance.
“I went to pick up a rider and she got in my car and when I offered to help her with her bag, she started screaming at me…,” says Valerie*, a rideshare driver who experienced a sudden deactivation from the Uber app. “I thought to myself, this lady is going like 12 blocks. I’m just going to get in the car and just bite my tongue.” She adds: “As soon as I put the car in Drive, the app made a sound and I looked at it and on the app it said ‘Rider canceled the ride.’”
The rider then filed a complaint with Uber, who promptly deactivated Valerie’s account four days later. When Valerie, who requested to remain anonymous due to concerns of employer retaliation, inquired as to why her account had been deactivated, Uber informed her the customer’s complaint alleged that Valerie had canceled the ride — not the passenger. Despite the ability to look at the data from the ride, Uber remained immovable in its decision to ban Valerie from the app.
“At a moment’s notice, I, with no kind of warning, did not have employment,” Valerie says.
The ordinance would allow drivers to challenge complaints like the one leveled against Valerie. In the least, it would require rideshare corporations to provide notice that they had determined the driver was at fault for an infraction that has resulted in their account’s deactivation. According to Lenny Sanchez, director of the Independent Drivers Guild of Illinois, the ordinance would protect 100,000 drivers. Tens of thousands of drivers have already experienced deactivations similar to Valerie’s, the ordinance’s proponents claim.
The reasons behind passenger complaints are numerous, but one major theme emerged among the drivers that spoke with Eater Chicago: Riders that file complaints often want freebies to make up for their alleged bad experiences.
“You know, there are drivers, whether you’re doing Uber Eats or [working] as a driver, the company’s policy at this point on believing the words of passengers over drivers on complaints — specifically more so for free rides — it’s causing more and more drivers to get deactivated,” says Maureen Johnson, who has been driving for Uber for seven years.
This proposed ordinance would protect drivers who work with passengers, and was drafted with those individuals in mind, but many rideshare drivers also work for Uber Eats and other third-party delivery services. Uber avoided a lawsuit with Chicago with a $10 million settlement while rival DoorDash and Grubhub continue to battle cases in court.
Though delivery and wait times in Chicago — for food and passengers — remain acceptable, wait times for both have likely been impacted by fewer drivers on Chicago’s streets according to Johnson.
Valerie and Johnson say that approximately half of their businesses, if not more, involves taking people to and from restaurants, bars, and clubs. Rideshares help diners in neighborhoods like the restaurant-laden West Loop where parking is challenging. Both drivers spoke of their desire to help people experience wonderful evenings through safe travel which other modes of transportation can’t facilitate as easily as ordering a car. This especially includes people who live in Chicago’s nearby suburbs who prefer to access the city or return home, through ridesharing applications.
“The suburban areas and the rural areas are the areas that suffer more,” Johnson says. “[Drivers] aren’t doing the suburban areas because the drive time, and because [rideshare companies are] going to upfront pricing, is affecting drivers’ pay altogether.”
The ordinance wouldn’t just help drivers protect their work or diners and club-goers from navigating the city with more options, though — it would also benefit service industry workers who entertain customers into the small hours of the morning when bus service slows and El trains become less frequent. This includes cooks, servers, bartenders, bouncers, plus drag queens, and other performers who need to get home safely. Having fewer available drivers due to unchallengeable deactivations increases the cost of getting home and that has a ripple effect on the service industry. For workers making close to minimum wage, an affordable commute isn’t a luxury. Several service industry workers tell Eater Chicago they’ve quit their jobs because they can’t afford high rideshare costs.