OpEd: A Surge Cap Limits Opportunities For Communities that Most Need Them

By: Elba Aranda-Suh, Executive Director for National Latino Education Institute

Lawndale News

The pandemic forced us to reexamine the balance between life and work. The results are consistent: people are quitting their 9-5 jobs. Whether it’s a service industry job or a job high in the ranks of corporate America, the pandemic may have pushed many to want more control over where and when they work. In the month of April alone, 4 million people quit their jobs. It’s clear — what people expect from their work is evolving.

And as the needs of the workforce evolve, so must we. This means thinking beyond rigid hours and desk jobs. More importantly, it means creating more economic opportunities for people of color. Historically, people of color have faced obstacles in securing employment. Discrimination, lack of access to job training programs and education needed for certain jobs, and inflexible hours have created gaps in employment for communities of color. The gig economy has changed the lives of thousands of Illinois residents — particularly people of color. Instead of adhering to a rigid 9-5 job in a system that routinely presents obstacles for people of color, people can now set their own hours, be their own bosses, take care of their families, and easily access opportunities to work.

Yet, right when we see more opportunities for people of color and for our communities, Chicago’s local officials are getting in the way. In Chicago, there’s now a looming city ordinance that could change everything: among other limitations, this new ordinance that caps surge pricing and offers could drastically raise prices of rides and put limitations on where and when drivers could drive.

Today, median earnings for Chicago rideshare drivers are up to $35/hour without tips, money that is helping drivers, the majority of whom are people of color, make extra money at a time when it is needed. This proposed ordinance would cap driver fares, creating unnecessary obstacles for people seeking to make a living through app-based work. All of this begs the question — who really wins from this legislation? Right now, it’s clear that this ordinance will only hurt our communities.
At a time when people are thinking about new careers or re-entering the workforce post-pandemic, it’s difficult to understand why our policymakers want to make that harder. We can’t forget: When similar legislation was passed in New York, it led to 10,000 fewer drivers on the Lyft platform alone.

App-based work has given people a new perspective on how they can work. Parents have the freedom to help their kids with remote schooling during the day, then make some extra money at night. Retirees have the freedom to add some much-needed cushion to their Social Security checks. Students have the freedom to prioritize their education and fit work around their class schedule, including students of job training programs who rely on supplemental income throughout their training program. That’s the beauty of app-based work – it’s flexible and provides the freedom to earn supplemental income when it’s needed.

It’s clear that people advocating for this legislation aren’t listening to the voices of the drivers — app-based workers love their work because of the independence it offers. They’re just pushing their own one-sided beliefs instead of taking the time to learn how this legislation would affect real people, and particularly, communities of color who rely on app-based work to provide for their families and on rideshare for transportation.

We need to listen to the people who would be most impacted by this shift, particularly the drivers of color who make up the majority of independent workers. Overlooking their voices is exactly the opposite of the inclusive outlook we need today, especially given how disproportionately the pandemic has affected underserved communities.

Here’s the bottom line: the world has changed dramatically — and our economy with it. We must adapt to the reality of the current times, and the last thing our communities need are additional obstacles for making a living and access to transportation. Let’s be mindful of who stands to gain — and who stands to lose — from this ordinance and the real impact it would have.