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New App Aims To Compete With Uber, Lyft While Giving New York Drivers A Living Wage

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Let's say you're in New York, want to get from the Bronx to Bed-Stuy. You could take the subway or order a Lyft or Uber. Or soon, if a group of New York City drivers has their way, you could open The Co-op app on your phone. Ken Lewis is one of those drivers and one of the organizers of The Co-op. Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Lewis.

KEN LEWIS: Yes, sir. Thank you very much.

SIMON: What do you hope your app can do?

LEWIS: Well, I think that rideshare has been a very positive model for transportation. But I think there is also that part where it has been very predatory and extractive on our community. And so we hope that we can solve that problem while keeping the benefits of rideshare.

SIMON: I think all of us who've been in an Uber or Lyft have heard the drivers complain about the fees the companies collect. How would yours be different, if it would be?

LEWIS: Yes. This is one of the main benefits, I think, that people will see immediately. One, our trips are going to be slightly under Uber and Lyft charges for riders. And we will actually be able to pay drivers still more than they actually get at this moment from Uber and Lyft. They take, like, 25 and 30% from drivers. We will be taking 15%. But more than that - the really important is that while Lyft make their money for Wall Street investors and Silicon Valley investors, we will be a co-operative. So any profits will go back to the drivers.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Lewis, will you also put some money into some of the services that these ridesharing companies offer, like background checks for drivers, which can be a concern to people?

LEWIS: Yes, yes. I mean, we will give the benefits that rideshare has. I mean, in New York City, the TLC already does a job of background checks and so on. But we will do additional checks as needed. But we are also going to make sure that we respond to some of the deserts where people can't get a ride. I mean, there has been a study that showed that actually Uber and Lyft charge people who are Black and brown more than they do other riders. We are going to make sure that this is going to be fair to everybody, and riders will benefit, and drivers will also.

SIMON: Would your Co-op drivers still be technically independent contractors?

LEWIS: Well, yes, but they will also be owners. And so we have to look at that. But they will all have a share. They will all be able to elect the driver board and so on. And so drivers are going to be really invested in this.

SIMON: What's your pitch to customers potentially, Mr. Lewis?

LEWIS: Well, our pitch to customers will principally be to support drivers who have had a really hard time. But you get the same drivers with the same cars and with a price point that's a bit lower. We also have started some negotiations to help drivers to buy electric cars, which will help the environment and the community also.

SIMON: Not to get ahead of yourselves, but would you hope eventually to branch out to other cities?

LEWIS: Well, at the moment we are focusing on New York City. But there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. And this is it, you know?

SIMON: Ken Lewis - his project is called The Co-op - thank you so much for being with us.

LEWIS: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.