Uber and Lyft sometimes get cited as agorist ventures by misguided anarcho-capitalists. While it could be claimed that these models are slightly more agorist in nature than the traditional taxi industry, it is far from the model we should be striving for. Instead of being an agorist model for transportation services, it is merely traditional crony capitalism attempting to repackage itself as the “sharing economy.” This is despite the fact that the sharing economy is traditionally defined as being truly peer-to-peer. Uber and Lyft, however, both have third parties which intervene and make decisions unilaterally — instead of being made via a peer-to-peer participatory decision-making process.
This lack of peer-to-peer democratic participation and hierarchical business model has led many Uber and Lyft employees to become disillusioned with these companies. Multiple attempts at starting drivers’ unions in various locations all ended up snowballing into an all-out strike and solidarity boycott of the two ridesharing companies on May 8th, 2019. While this made quite the splash and brought a lot of media attention to the issues at hand, it seems they are only getting started.
Recently in Washington, D.C., drivers servicing Reagan National Airport have banded together in the pursuit of higher wages by engaging in some rather creative methods. Lyft and Uber drivers all gather in their designated parking lot at the airport. Lookouts stand on all corners of the parking lot and watch the app, giving directions to the other drivers. When a flight lands, they all shut off their apps at once. This sudden increase in demand partnered with the extreme lack of supply kicks off the apps’ surge pricing. The lookouts monitor the rising surge rates until they get to a high enough level before directing everyone to turn their apps back on and lock in rides at that price as fast as possible. Yes, this might inconvenience the customer a bit since they’ll have to pay more, but with Uber and Lyft taking 40-50% of every ride payment, it’s the only way many drivers can afford to continue. It’s just not cost effective to drive someone through airport traffic and to their destination for less than the gas cost to get there, and unfortunately, that was sometimes the case before they came together to devise such an ingenious workaround. It’s basically a modernized slow-down strike, but with immediate results. Yet again, direct action gets the goods.
Supporting these efforts by Lyft and Uber drivers to improve their working conditions is important, and a great start, but we can’t stop there. As agorists, we can go further in creating our own alternatives. There are a number of localized peer-to-peer ridesharing platforms already in existence. Some operate through their own apps similar to Lyft or Uber, while others operate via other platforms such as facebook groups, though all are rather small operations.
For those looking for a more widely used and less localized peer-to-peer ridesharing service, one can always turn to Cell 411. The app operates on a peer-to-peer level and no one takes a cut of any transactions coordinated via the app, thus meaning that drivers and customers get to negotiate directly. Drivers can set their own prices and even choose what forms of payment they wish to accept, including cash, cards, cryptocurrency, precious metals, or barter. Hell, a driver could even operate on a gift economy if they’d like and refuse to charge payment at all. The power is truly in the hands of the worker.
So how do we spread the use of these alternatives considering many of them aren’t widely known or used. Well, start out by jumping onto whatever alternative platform is available — even if it’s not being used much, or at all, in your area currently. Always send out ride requests via that alternative platform first to encourage its use. Print out cards or flyers for said ridesharing alternative, if you can. It can be as simple as a blank background with a website address printed on it (i.e. GetCell411.com) as a reminder to the receiver. Whenever you can’t find a ride via one of these alternatives and instead turn to Uber or Lyft, be sure to talk to your driver about other options and hand them one of those cards.
If you are already a driver and are looking to make the leap or have received a card or flyer from a customer encouraging you to do so, it’s a simple task. Just download the necessary app or platform for whatever alternative is being used locally and start taking any ride offers that may pop up. Don’t worry if no one is using it as of now. You can keep driving for Lyft and Uber while also driving for Cell 411 or some other alternative, so the fact that these alternatives are not as used now should not be discouragement for getting involved. In fact, drivers can also print out flyers or business cards to pass out to customers to encourage them to request future rides using these alternatives.
Similarly, flyers and business cards can be placed around town at various locations including hotels, bars, college campuses, infoshops, libraries, community centers, and pretty much any other public place you can think of that might catch attention. Using these promotional methods can help to ensure growth in the use of these alternatives, thus allowing for more worker control via truly peer-to-peer platforms. This is the real sharing economy. Will you help it to grow?