August 19, 2020

Dear California

Destroying 100,000 jobs

Last week the CEOs of Uber and Lyft both threatened to shut down service in California as soon as tomorrow night, imperiling the jobs of 100,000 drivers.

They've done it before. When Austin voters soundly rejected Uber and Lyft's attempt to rewrite the rules in their favor, the corporations shut down service in Austin for an entire year. About 10,000 drivers were put out of a job with just 48 hours' notice.

To repeat that scenario now across California — or even to suggest it — in the middle of a pandemic with millions of Americans recently unemployed, is almost unthinkable. But here we are.

What happened after Uber & Lyft abandoned Austin?

When Uber and Lyft shut down service in Austin for a year starting in May 2016, about ten rideshare startups rushed to Austin to fill the void.

First on the scene was Arcade City, connecting riders and drivers peer-to-peer in a 30,000-member Facebook group. Some of the 10,000 drivers recently out of a job stepped up to run the new network themselves, creating a charter of policies they themselves wrote and enforced.

Four years later, every startup that raced to Austin is now dead and gone — except Arcade City.

The success of Arcade City Austin

Why has Arcade City Austin survived and thrived?

Because we did something no one else thought was possible: We handed over control of the network to the drivers themselves.

The result? Arcade City Austin became the world's first and only self-governing driver cooperative to provide reliable citywide transportation to a major city. Just 150 drivers have provided safe rides (and deliveries!) every single day for the last four years, about 500,000 in total.

Our Austin drivers:

  • Set their own rates
  • Keep 100% of their fare
  • Choose what payment options they accept: cash or cards or Venmo or bitcoin or tacos or barter or anything else
  • Can truly set their own schedule: no need to chase surge bonuses or jump through hoops just to break even
  • Have the freedom to build their own recurring customer base no one can take away from them
  • Make more money over time, not less
  • Govern themselves according to the charter they wrote and enforce via a rotating team of volunteer moderators

One of our Austin drivers even showed me his Google calendar where he had the next two weeks fully booked with prescheduled rides with his regulars, who pay him better anyway. That is a level of job security and stability no rideshare company in the world is even capable of matching — because I as "CEO" could not take those relationships away from him even if I tried.

Also our Austin network has had twice the industry average of female drivers. Imagine that: women prefer making their own choices about who they let in their car, instead of trusting their safety to an algorithm written by Silicon Valley tech bros.

We haven't solved everything, and we don't have all the answers. But we have had some initial success which is directly relevant to the 100,000 California drivers now facing immediate job loss.

So don't just wait for another corporation to save you. It's time for local communities to get organized into cooperatives — so they can solve their own needs and the needs of their community.

Read more about our Austin network in this 110-page case study from the California-based Sustainable Economies Law Center.

What's next?

For now, we'll be increasingly vocal about sharing our lessons learned in Austin.

California's drivers deserve the choice to organize directly into worker-owned cooperatives. Most drivers don't even know it's an option! Maybe you can help us spread the word.

For November, we'll be encouraging California drivers to vote No on Proposition 22, the corporations' latest attempt to rewrite the rules in their favor — because Uber and Lyft's years of mistreating drivers and bullying local governments should be punished, not rewarded.

We've also been building some web and mobile tools we think can help new cooperatives get organized and start providing service. We've been gearing up to launch our new platform in September anyway, so the timing is great for us to help in California.

But please don't wait for us or any company! You already have direct access to everything you need to do all that our Austin drivers did — and more.

If anyone is best positioned to lead the new cooperative revolution, California's drivers seem to be it. But will you?

© 2020 Arcade City, Inc.