Transportation start-ups Uber and Lyft this week introduced initiatives to keep drivers happy and connected.
Lyft rolled out a perks program called "Accelerate" for its drivers, a tiered initiative that gives rewards to drivers based on the number of rides, including support for filing taxes through Intuit, health insurance options through eHealth and ways to save on vehicle purchases, gym memberships and more. The tiers are silver, gold and platinum, which is the most comprehensive and caters to those who rack up more than 200 rides a month and who are given preference by being streamlined in contacting Lyft headquarters, according to the company's website.
"We wouldn't be where we are today without the tens of thousands of community drivers across the country who are powering the Lyft movement. Today, we say, 'Thank you,' to the parents, students, entrepreneurs and artists who are opening up the seats in their cars to provide welcoming, affordable and memorable rides," the company said on its website.
Uber also announced Monday that it would unveil its first issue of Momentum Magazine, which is designed exclusively for its driver partners. In a blog post, Ryan Graves, head of operations at Uber, said the company wants to ensure that its drivers are up to date on new developments within the company. The magazine will also provide methods for drivers to connect to the company and each other.
"As we gear up for another big year of improvements, we look forward to hearing from you about what more we can do to ensure you have the most positive experience possible on the road with our platform," Graves said in a blog post.
Uber has a similar benefits program to Lyft's called "Momentum" and provides partner rewards with AT&T, Verizon with discounts up to 18 percent on personal phone plans. Firestone, Jiffy Lube and Valvoline, providing up to $50 off on auto maintenance, as well as personalized health-care options from Stride Health. The Stride Health program launched in November in some states but will expand in 2015.
Separately, Uber is also taking some heat after announcing Friday that it was hit by a data breach impacting about 50,000 drivers in May 2014. The company said that it has been investigating the matter since September 2014, and that while the breach exposed some drivers' names and license numbers, the information has not been used maliciously, to its knowledge.
Both moves also come as two separate driver lawsuits are underway in California, which challenge whether drivers are independent contractors, as they stand currently, or employees. The suits, in which drivers are pushing for things such as vehicle maintenance reimbursement, are seeking class-action status and are making their way through the courts.
A ruling, which is expected later this year, could alter the way the sharing economy operates if drivers are considered employees rather than independent contractors. Lyft's Accelerate initiative gets at some of what the drivers are pushing for in the case, as does Uber's established program, although it has been in place for a few months. Do driver perks from Uber and Lyft help?
Plaintiffs' attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, partner at Boston-based Lichten & Liss-Riordan, said she's glad to see the companies making changes to help their drivers but it doesn't change the fact that workers are being misclassified. Liss-Riordan is representing drivers from both companies in the cases.
"It's nice [that Lyft] will help drivers with their taxes, but given the current situation, they aren't having them do their taxes correctly at all, because they should be classified as employees and not independent contractors," she said. "Offering discounts on things, people like that, but they would prefer getting paid a proper wage and being reimbursed for things like gas and vehicle maintenance which they would have the right to under California law [as employees]."
Moves by both companies are a step in the right direction, said Sarah Leberstein, senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, adding it seems almost similar to Wal-Mart's announcement last month that it would be raising the minimum wage for entry-level workers to $9 an hour.
"It's a positive sign that Uber and Lyft seem to be reacting to drivers who want greater protections," Leberstein said. "They're feeling pressure and understand they have to do better by workers which is a good thing, but overall it's not enough… the best, most responsible move is to respond in a more meaningful way, and make sure drivers are covered more broadly by labor protections."
UPDATED: This story was updated to include comments from the senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project.