A driver spent $180,000 to start an Uber Black business. Then the company deactivated his account.
By Levi Sumagaysay
Uber is reversing its decision and reactivating the driver after being contacted by MarketWatch
Miguel Abreu, a chauffeur, bought a Chevy Tahoe last summer for about $80,000. He spent about $10,000 to get a commercial license and hire an accountant to build a luxury Uber Black business. He then bought a Mercedes for $90,000 and hired another driver for that vehicle. Then, in early December, Uber Technologies Inc. deactivated his account.
Abreu, of Lynn, Mass., told MarketWatch the company permanently banned him from the Uber (UBER) app because it suspected he was splitting his account, meaning two people were driving for one account.
One day, Uber asked Abreu to prove he was at the airport, so he sent the company a photo of himself. He was then told that the photo’s metadata showed he was elsewhere. That it’s somewhere else on an island that’s inaccessible by car points to an obvious mistake, he said. But after driving for Uber for seven years, he found his account deactivated.
Abreu tried a number of times to plead his case by going to the company’s office in Saugus, Massachusetts.
“How can that be?” Abreu said he told Uber. “You know I’m an Uber Black driver. I bought this expensive car; I have a commercial license. I shouldn’t just be deactivated.” Uber Black is the company’s premium service that requires drivers to have higher ratings, commercial licenses, newer cars, and allows riders to reserve rides up to 30 days in advance, among other things.
Abreu is just one of many drivers who face deactivations from gig companies like Uber at any given time. The problem is so common and widespread that some states, such as New York, New Jersey, and Washington, have enacted statutes that include provisions on deactivation processes. It’s mentioned in a regulation proposal in Chicago, as well as in a proposed law in Massachusetts — the only state in the nation that conducts background checks on drivers in addition to the driver background check conducted by ridesharing agencies, and may also play a role in deactivations if it deems it necessary.
See, “If you can win here, you can win anywhere”: The next battleground for Uber and Lyft is Massachusetts, where drivers are fighting for the right to unionize
Also, “Sometimes there’s no way for drivers to prove their innocence”: The rules aim to address apps that ban gig workers
Abreu said the person at Uber’s office told him he had appealed and that reopening his account wasn’t sufficient. But he didn’t actually send an appeal, he said.
“I left the Uber office quite unhappy,” Abreu said. “I had invested so much in this effort. So I went back to Uber the next day. I was so speechless that I asked them to please check everything.”
He said he was trying to figure out what else might have contributed to his deactivation. The 42-year-old native of the Dominican Republic had recently become a US citizen. Could this have anything to do with it?
“The woman who showed me all the information from Uber said it must be a mistake because [the photo indicated] ‘They were on an island where cars aren’t allowed,'” Abreu said. The woman said she will ask that the decision on his account be reconsidered, he said.
After a week, he went back to the office and was told that his deactivation was final and permanent. Shortly thereafter, he gave up contacting Uber. He had also ridden for Lyft Inc. (LYFT) so he continued with that.
This week MarketWatch reached out to Uber for comment on Abreu’s situation. Within two days, a spokesman said the company reversed its decision to disable it, which appeared to have been based on suspicions of fraud.
“We approach any deactivation decision with caution and consideration,” said spokesman Austen Radcliff. “Drivers also have the ability to challenge legitimate deactivations, which includes submitting additional evidence. We are committed to listening to drivers and continuing to improve our processes.”
Abreu said he would be able to ride the Uber app again the same day and plans to try to restart his Uber Black business. He had to sell the Mercedes after his account was deactivated, but he plans to buy a cheaper vehicle and find another driver for it. As months have passed since Abreu’s deactivation, he said, the driver he previously hired to drive his business – essentially becoming his partner and sharing the revenue as he provides the vehicle and commercial insurance – has had to find another job .
While Abreu expressed his gratitude for being reactivated at Uber, he said what happened to him was arbitrary and called for action. He said he will continue to support other drivers in pushing for proposed legislation in Massachusetts aimed at allowing drivers to bargain collectively.
“What happened to me shouldn’t happen to anyone,” Abreu said. “We need protection.”
– Levi Sumagaysay
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