Tyler Russell / CT Public

Connecticut-based rideshare drivers took to the state Capitol in Hartford on Thursday to rally against low pay and bans on picking up passengers at New York City airports. They said the bans make it harder to earn a living, and they want the state to step in.

Alex Johnson, a member of Connecticut Drivers United, an advocacy organization, is one of the many drivers who said they cannot live off their earnings.

“This is five dollars and some change for three deliveries, three restaurants, three houses; that’s supposed to take 45 minutes, but I promise you with all the wait time, it will take an hour,” Johnson said. “But our minimum wage is $14.”

Johnson, 29, stood with other members of the group in Hartford and braved the cold weather to support the proposed state senate bill. The concept would give drivers minimum pay per trip, make rideshare companies pay for fees such as tolls, and provide receipts to drivers and passengers.

Getting a base pay would help workers like Johnson.

“We understand as independent workers, we’re not held to minimum wage standards,” Johnson said. “They think we can’t go any lower, but watch, they will, if we do not stand up for pay standards.”

A minimum pay per ride is different from minimum wage, according to Soledad Slowing-Romero, a Yale Law School student working with Connecticut Drivers United.

Minimum pay means a driver would get a baseline rate per ride. Minimum wage would apply to workers, but rideshare drivers are classified as independent contractors. As a result, according to a release by CDU, some drivers have worked as much as 60 hours a week but only earned $600 during that time period, which is less than minimum wage.

The bill would also require state officials to come up with an agreement with other states such as New York, granting Connecticut drivers permission to pick up passengers at New York airports.

Currently, drivers in Connecticut can drop off passengers at New York airports, but they cannot pick up passengers there. Only those who have a New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission License can pick up fares at New York City airports. But New York-based drivers can drop off and pick up fares in Connecticut.

Deborah Wright, the political director for UAW Region 9A, said this results in Connecticut drivers losing out on what could have been their money.

“In many ways, it’s lost profits for them,” Wright said.

Drivers, CDU members said, routinely drive into New York to drop off passengers, but the drivers have to pay tolls out of pocket. The price to enter the Queens borough of New York City, where LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports are located, is $10.17 full price and $6.55 with E-ZPass for a one way trip.

The bill has two state senators backing it, Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, and Martin Looney, D-New Haven. But if passed, the bill would only get the drivers most of what they’re asking. The bill would only mandate that the state negotiate with other states to allow them access to fares such as in New York.

How that would happen is still unclear, according to Slowing-Romero.

“That’s a question we’re still considering,” Slowing-Romero said. “We’re still early in the process.”

A date to vote on the bill has not yet been set, according to Slowing-Romero.

Uber did not respond to a request for comment, but Lyft did.

The bill, according to Lyft spokesperson CJ Macklin, would raise prices.

“The changes proposed in this bill are so dramatic that it would jeopardize the very affordability of the service,” Macklin said. “This would disproportionately hit our disadvantaged communities the hardest at a time when they are already dealing with record inflation and ultimately mean drivers would take home less than they were before.”

This story was first published March 9, 2023 by Connecticut Public.