Shortly before 1 a.m. on Nov. 8, per the New York Times, New York City taxi driver Salifu Abubkar fatally struck 88-year-old Luisa Rosario when he turned right on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and collided with Rosario in a crosswalk. Abubkar, who called police and remained at the scene, said he’d been driving since 9 a.m. the previous day, amounting to a 16-hour shift. Abubkar’s son Khalil told the New York Post that his father frequently works such long shifts, exceeding the 12-hour legal limit imposed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC).
“How long can you transport people around the five boroughs (and select parts of New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester) before becoming a hazard in a hands-free headset” is not a game of chicken cab drivers should play. When people are behind the wheel for 16 hours straight, however, that’s basically what car transport becomes. As research has shown, drowsy drivers are prone to zone out, make mistakes and exhibit delayed reaction times. Can we definitively say Abubkar’s tired state caused the accident? No, but it’s safe to assume his exhaustion played some part.
TLC does clearly state that drivers can’t work for more than 12 consecutive hours. But, it’s not clear how they enforce the policy (we reached out for comment but did not receive a reply). The business model arguably incentivizes pushing limits: As of 2012, less than 20 percent of yellow (or green) cabs were driver-owned; all other cabbies lease medallions for about $130 per shift, so they need to make at least that much to break even. The TLC did, however, launch a pilot program in April to test out in-vehicle safety technology, including a device to detect driver fatigue, but it hasn’t released much information since.
We reached out to several ride-sharing companies to see how their policies compare to those of TLC. Uber and Lyft responded. Here’s how they tackle tired drivers.
Uber monitors its drivers to see if they’re behind the wheel for excessive amounts of time, according to a company spokesperson. If an account seems suspicious, Uber suspends the account and has a chat with said driver. But the Uber rep says excessively long shifts haven’t been a problem because, unlike the TLC, Uber’s business model doesn’t incentivize the practice. Drivers use their own cars, so they’re not starting a shift in the red. To maximize profit, drivers work when the demand and returns are highest: during rush hour and surge-charge periods.
The numbers support the claims: In a study conducted earlier this year, Uber found that 42 percent of Uber X drivers work one to 15 hours a week and 35 percent drive 16 to 34 hours per week. Just seven percent of drivers log more than 50 hours a week. They could make a handsome sum toting our lazy asses across bridges and tunnels for 12 hours a day — upwards of $35 per hour. But, they don’t need to rack up hours to turn a profit, so they don’t.
If customers feel like they’ve run into a tired Uber driver, the best thing to do, said the rep, is give them a low rating and indicate the reason in the comments section.
In a Feb. 11 letter to TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi, Uber said it will adopt the 12-hour shift limit imposed on TLC and hail livery-car drivers. The announcement follows turbulence surrounding the ride-service pioneer's decision to cut fares by 15 percent. Uber drivers didn't respond positively to the price reduction, which took effect on Jan. 29. As The New York Post reported on Feb. 7, more than 300 Uber drivers recently gathered at New York City airports to protest cheaper fares. To compensate for lost wages, drivers said they had to work around-the-clock. “I have to work 16 hours a day to make enough money to support my family,’’ a 28-year-old Uber driver told the Post. “Last week, I worked 19 hours in one day, and I slept in the car at JFK.”
But Uber says driver workloads have remained stable since the price change. "The average Uber driver-partner in NYC spends 30 hours per week on the road," said a company rep in an email. "99% of Uber drivers in New York drive less than 12 hours in a day."
"Though this rule does not currently apply to For-Hire Drivers, we want to do our part to ensure that drivers are being safe on our city streets. We will be notifying all driver-partners that it is unsafe to use the Uber app for more than 12 hours at a time. We will, on a daily basis, be using our technology to identify a driver-partner who has been using the Uber app for more than 12 consecutive hours. Our New York City-based team will follow up with any driver that goes over this limit to notify them of the hours limit policy and take other appropriate steps. These measures will include temporary, and possibly permanent, deactivation from the Uber platform if repeated violations occur and warnings are ignored."
A Lyft rep pointed us to its website, which posts breaks and time-limit policies. “For every 14 hours you’re in driver mode, whether they are consecutive or not,” it states. “You will need to take a 6 hour break.” Some regions have additional regulations, by which Lyft drivers must abide. In DC, for example, the Transportation Network Company prohibits drivers from working more than 13 hours during any 24-hour period. There was no word about how they enforce these policies.
This post was updated on February 16, 2016.