Inside Uber’s unsettling alliance with some of New York’s shadiest car dealers

LXIV

Leasing.

Geovanie Rosario signed the lease because it was easy. Tower Auto Mall came recommended by Uber, as one of four dealers the ride-hailing company partnered with in New York City to offer “flexible and affordable” rentals and lease-to-own contracts to drivers. Rosario went to see Tower one morning in May 2016 and started driving a black Lincoln MKS, New York City’s standard car-service vehicle, a week later. His contract included a $3,000 service fee and weekly payments of $495 for 159 weeks, or just over three years. Tower would take the payments directly out of his Uber earnings every Monday.

Rosario had quit his position as an assistant manager at Rent-A-Center, a job with benefits and a 401(k), to drive for Uber in March 2015. Rent-A-Center paid $12.25 an hour, and, based on Uber’s ads, he figured he could double that by becoming a driver. He had tried a couple of car rental options and, by the time he went to Tower, felt confident he could make enough to come out ahead.

But a month into his lease Rosario fell ill with pneumonia. He tried to keep driving, worried his payments would pile up, but he couldn’t control his cough. With no health insurance, it was hard to get treated, and what little money he did make went straight to his lease. It was late June when Rosario felt well enough to start working full-time again. By then he was $1,800 in debt. When he tried to start up the Lincoln, its alarm sounded.

“That’s when I realized they’d turned the car off,” Rosario said. He called Tower to ask why the dealer had remotely deactivated his vehicle. “They said, ‘You have to make a payment.’”

That is the start of a big investigation I did and Quartz just published, “Inside Uber’s unsettling alliance with some of New York’s shadiest car dealers.” Uber’s treatment of drivers has been almost completely forgotten amid its many internal scandals and crises this year. But that does not mean Uber has started treating them well. In New York, the company has maintained partnerships with a small network of third-party dealers that market leases and rentals to drivers like Rosario. These auto-financing arrangements carry weekly payments as high as $500. They also require the driver to sign a “payment deduction authorization” that lets the dealer or lessor take fees directly out of their Uber earnings, effectively garnishing wages. Elsewhere in the US, Uber helps drivers get cars through its Xchange Leasing subsidiary, which has also been criticized for its sky-high terms and potential for exploiting workers.

Now, after I raised questions about the New York program, Uber says it will pause referrals to its partner dealers as it investigates. “Last week, we made a commitment to drivers: to fundamentally change their experience with Uber for the better,” Uber said in a statement. “We take that commitment seriously, which is why we are halting referrals to third-party vehicle leases as we conduct a comprehensive audit of the third-party leasing program in New York City. We will not hesitate to make any changes necessary to fully honor our commitment to drivers.”

There’s a lot more. Read the full story here. No, seriously, read it.

We’ll be back with regular Oversharing next week.