ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) — Every night, several times a night, Uber and Lyft drivers at Reagan National Airport simultaneously turn off their ride share apps for a minute or two to trick the app into thinking there are no drivers available---creating a price surge. When the fare goes high enough, the drivers turn their apps back on and lock into the higher fare.
It's happening in the Uber and Lyft parking lot outside Reagan National airport. The lot fills with 120 to 150 drivers sometimes for hours, waiting for the busy evening rush. And nearly all the drivers have one complaint:
“Uber doesn’t pay us enough, what the company is doing is defrauding all these people by taking 35-40 percent,” one driver told ABC 7.
“They are taking all this money because there’s no system of accountability,” another unidentified driver said.
ABC7's Sam Sweeney asks: "Do all you guys agree with that?"
“Yes, yes, yes, yes!!!!,” the driver says.
Drivers say after three years of pay cuts, they now have to fight back. By turning off their apps at certain times, drivers are able to artificially manipulate the Uber and Lyft apps into higher fares.
“All the airplanes we know when they land. So five minutes before, we turn all our apps off all of us at the same time. All of us we turn our apps off. They surge, $10, $12, sometimes $19. Then we turn our app on. Everyone will get the surge,” one driver says.
This driver explains how they organize it.
“Someone is standing by that corner. I stand by this corner and the other one stands at this corner and we say turn the app off and then go online."
ABC7’s cameras roll for the first planned surge of the night.
"You gotta wait, you gotta wait. Wait, wait, wait, wait.”
A man running the operation , alerts drivers that the time to shutdown is just around the corner. Using another app, he knows the precise moment to have everyone power down, ensuring the largest surge.
“Hey! We gotta wait, we gotta wait.”
“Alright—go off go off. Go, go, go, go, go, go.”
“10-12 10 -12.”
The surge rises to $12 within seconds. The organizer watches his phone closely.
“It’s still going up. It’s still going up.”
“It’s 13 still going up, it’s still going up. It’s 13. Don’t go on yet! You up?? Refresh it!”
In less than 2 minutes it's over. Passengers now pay an additional $13 on their fares.
“When we find out what the highest surge is, that’s when we say everybody on. And that’s when everybody gets paid what we think we should be getting paid,” the man who ran the operation says.
"And does everyone oblige? Does everyone do it?, Sweeney asks.
“Yes 100 percent. Everyone do it. Everyone knows it’s not worth it. They know if they take a ride from here without surge, without pumping the surge up, it’s not worth it.”
In less than a minute, about 50 drivers are locked into the surge.
“It’s like we work as a family, like a team together. Like as a team. We do it. Every night. We do it again. We drop off, come back again, it’s a routine. We do it to 12 o' clock."
These drivers tell ABC 7 they do have a sense of guilt. They say they don’t want to do this, but because Uber and Lyft keep reducing their pay, they tell us they have no choice. They can’t afford to pickup people at Reagan for $4 in rush hour traffic.
ABC7 reached out to Uber and Lyft, they responded with the following statements:
Lyft takes any allegations of fraudulent behavior very seriously as it violates our community guidelines and can lead to deactivation from the Lyft platform.
Lyft drivers’ hourly earnings have increased 7% over the last two years, and they have earned more than $14B since we launched. Over 75% drive less than 10 hours a week to supplement existing jobs. On average, Lyft drivers earn over $20 per hour. We know that access to flexible, extra income makes a big difference for millions of people, and we’re constantly working to improve how we can best serve our driver community.
At Uber, we work to ensure the reliability of our service for our riders and drivers. This behavior is neither widespread or permissible on the uber platform, and we have technical safeguards in place to help prevent it from happening.
Drive United, an organization that informally represents the Uber and Lyft drivers, also released a statement.
For years, our wages have been declining, resulting in many drivers being unable to afford health insurance or to feed their families. Just last week, drivers in Washington,D.C. and around the world protested to demand a living wage from rideshare corporations.
With that demand still unanswered, it should surprise no one that drivers are finding ways to work together within uber and Lyft’s terms to make enough money to cover their basic needs. We encourage the media to look deeper into Uber and Lyft’s unsustainable business model and the difficulties drivers face every day.