Taxi drivers

Uber seeks to pay tribute to Brazil, taxi drivers set to launch local app

It’s getting harder and harder to catch an Uber in Brazil. While fuel prices rose 50% last year, the apps that ride-hailing drivers rely on are claiming a big chunk of what’s left.

Soaring inflation has left many Brazilians struggling to make ends meet.

On the street, an Uber driver’s phone beeps to pick up a passenger, but he checks the distance and refuses: “I became a mathematician behind the wheel,” he complained.

But now drivers in Sao Paulo, a sprawling city of 12 million, are set to launch their own app, taking on industry giant Uber with a platform they say will deliver better offers to drivers.

“With petrol so expensive, I have to do split-second calculations before every trip to make sure it’s worth it, so I don’t end up giving the passenger a free ride,” the driver said. ‘Uber from Sao Paulo, Valmir, 56, who demanded that his last name not be used.

“I work 12, 13, sometimes 14 hours a day to earn the same money as before,” between 250 and 300 reals ($48-57) a day before expenses, he said.

This problem led a group of 150,000 application pilots in Sao Paulo to organize and develop their own mobile application, supported by the Association of Application Pilots and Deliverers of Sao Paulo (AMMASP).

His name is Me Busca, which roughly translates to “find me”.

“We want to offer drivers conditions that (ride-sharing) companies do not offer: better pay, more safety and better quality work,” AMMASP president Eduardo Lima told AFP. Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Its creators say Me Busca will offer similar prices to rivals like Uber and US-based 99, which is owned by China’s Didi.

The app is due to launch in March and thousands of drivers have already signed up.

Inflation hit a painful 10% in Brazil last year, driven by the economic ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. Price increases for some sectors were much higher, including 49% for fuels.

The pandemic has also swelled the ranks of the struggling and unemployed.

Raniel de Queiroz, a 42-year-old technician, began supplementing his day job as a data backup analyst with eight-hour nights as a transport driver. “My salary is not going up, but the prices are going up. Driving was a way to earn some extra money and keep up with the country’s inflation situation,” he said.

But his treatment by the app he drives for “has become increasingly unfair”, he added.

Fares paid by app users increased by 60.5% last year in Sao Paulo. Drivers say they barely see that money.

The apps are “taking advantage of Brazil’s high unemployment rate,” currently 11.6%, to keep drivers’ wages low, said Marlon Luz, a city councilor who represents the drivers.

He said apps withhold between 14% and 40% of each tariff, sometimes even reaching 60%.

Me Busca will pay the drivers “about 2,000 reals more per month than what they currently earn, for the same number of hours of work”, he said.

Uber, which arrived in Brazil in 2014, says drivers “still keep the majority of the fares users pay”.

“In Sao Paulo, estimated weekly earnings rose to 1,500 reals last month, for a 40-hour work week,” the company told AFP.

Soaring fuel prices forced many Uber drivers to cut rides last year, leaving passengers with long wait times or even stranded.

The company said it was trying to address this issue with incentives such as dynamic pricing to attract drivers.

App 99, meanwhile, said it raised driver pay by 10% to 25% last year and offered 8% more per kilometer this year in Sao Paulo.

The drivers are not convinced.

“We hope the new app will work,” Queiroz said. “If so, they’ll regret not listening to us.”

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