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Ithaca Uber drivers struggle to earn a living as fuel prices climb

Ithaca-area Uber drivers have fallen on hard times as gas prices rise and corporate changes threaten to make the job unviable for many.

A 2020 court ruling made New York Uber drivers employees rather than contractors, meaning they gained rights to a guaranteed minimum wage and post-termination benefits, according to The Cornell Daily Sun. It also ensured Uber drivers could access unemployment benefits.

Despite these and other changes- like Uber adding a 55 cent surcharge to all rides- Ithaca area drivers are still struggling to support themselves, especially as gas prices continue to climb.

One anonymous driver who spoke to Cornell Sun said breaking even is not an option some days. Another named Jeffrey Thomas said Uber’s “guaranteed minimum” program for new drivers has helped him stay afloat, but that the program’s expiration might make driving unsustainable.

Kathy Wallace, a driver of three years from Lansing, said she avoids expensive trips to the airport altogether. She said driving within the Ithaca city limits can still get expensive.

There has been a drop in available drivers across the country as the cost of fuel increases. Upstate New York has seen the price of gas increase from $2.84 to $4.20 in a single year. Some have criticized what they see as Uber putting the extra cost of operating onto its drivers. For many, there is little incentive to offer rides until gas prices go down.