Ride-share and taxi drivers say the rising cost of petrol is putting them under enormous strain and have bemoaned existing relief measures as a “joke”.

Major ride-share companies including Uber introduced a temporary levy in response to record high petrol prices in March. Ola was the first to act, increasing its fares by 15%.

Uber’s fuel surcharge for Australian trips, due to lapse on Saturday, added about six cents per kilometre for drivers, or about 50 cents per average trip.

The ride-hailing service DiDi followed suit, with a six cent per kilometre fuel surcharge coming into effect on 21 March.

Dan Jordan, a spokesperson for DiDi, said it was “no secret” the industry experienced a driver shortage during the pandemic but numbers had increased after the surcharge announcement.

He said the surcharge would remain in place for at least 60 days while the company made changes to its service fees and pricing.

“DiDi is moving to a flat service fee model in most cities for drivers … along with a slight price increase for riders,” he said. “This latest surcharge [is] yet another initiative that provides additional support in the face of rising fuel prices.”

But ride-share drivers say the temporary economic buffer was minimal, and taxi drivers have not been given surcharge rates.

One Uber driver, who wished to remain anonymous, said offering 30 cents for a 5km ride was “beyond a joke” because drivers had to travel up to 10km to collect passengers.

“The fuel prices will become a big issue in September when the levy is added back on,” he said. “Uber’s greed of 27.5% commission is the issue.”

Unleaded petrol prices spiked at more than $2.20 cents a litre in March before dropping to about $1.60 in April thanks to a temporary reprieve on the fuel excise in the federal budget.

But prices have since started to rise again and now hover at around $1.80. According to data from MotorMouth, unleaded petrol prices have climbed in every capital city except Brisbane in May.

A driver who wished to remain anonymous said Uber drivers were earning “significantly less” than prior to the pandemic, despite a spike in demand since restrictions eased.

“The cost-effectiveness and convenience of Uber is at the cost of the drivers and is not reciprocated in the form of equitable earnings,” the driver said.

“Everything has gone up, significantly, except fares – petrol, insurance, maintenance, taxes, food. And nothing has reduced in costs. Uber still clips drivers a whopping commission.”

James Weir, a ride-share driver, said drivers were forced to be more picky with the trips they accepted, which may have led to a higher than usual cancellation rate in recent months.

“The higher prices along with lower real rates have caused drivers to use more discretion when choosing which trips they will take,” he said.

An Uber spokesperson told Guardian Australia the company made initial changes to recommended rates last month after feedback from drivers.

“We recently made changes to these rates which we believe will help make earnings better for driver-partners while maintaining the reliable, safe and affordable experience that riders love,” they said.

Michael Kaine, the national secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union, said the federal government’s refusal to provide targeted relief on fuel prices for drivers had led to many feeling a “deadly squeeze” on already tight margins.

“Drivers have no access to minimum pay rights and haven’t seen an increase to their low rates for years,” he said.

“The cost-of-living crisis hits owner drivers and gig economy workers twice over. Their outgoings have skyrocketed at home and work.

“We need an independent body to set enforceable minimum standards so that cost recovery is never a losing battle.”

Calls for federal support for taxi drivers

Taxi drivers have also taken a hit. The Australian Taxi Drivers Association’s president Michael Jools said drivers were suffering “as always, from an un-level playing field”.

As taxi fares are regulated by state governments, any fare supplement that isn’t legislated is illegal.

“[Petrol prices] fall on the driver and he’s got no way of paying the extra amount because he can’t charge the customer any more,” Jools said.

“Drivers are stuck in a very difficult situation.”

Jools said the federal government’s temporary reprieve on the fuel excise had gone some way to easing distress, but drivers were still operating on fares set 12 years ago.

“Nothing of the increase in operating costs have been passed on through a fare increase,” he said.

“Our incomes are hopelessly out of date. We’ve got to work 70 hours a week to earn minimum wage. It requires legislative change.”

Extracted in full from: ‘Beyond a joke’: Uber and taxi drivers plead for relief as petrol prices rise again | Business | The Guardian