A rideshare driver asks about the border limitations of Minneapolis' proposed rideshare ordinance at an informational meeting on August 2, 2023. Credit: Aaron Nesheim | Sahan Journal

A proposed city ordinance that would increase wages for rideshare drivers in Minneapolis passed its first hurdle Tuesday when it was approved by a committee to move forward to the full City Council.

The proposed ordinance would guarantee drivers a minimum compensation of $0.51 per minute and $1.40 per mile while they are transporting a customer. That would increase annually proportional to the city’s minimum wage. 

The city’s Business, Inspections, Housing & Zoning Committee voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to pass the ordinance onto the full council.

Council Member Michael Rainville, who is a member of the committee, voted to pass the ordinance, but didn’t commit to approving it when it comes before the full council.

“I’m not at this time prepared to vote on the full ordinance, so I look forward to you [Council member Robin Wonsley] answering questions,” he said.

The full council will vote on the ordinance on August 17.

Farxan Betel, a local Uber driver, was one of more than 20 people who spoke during Tuesday’s public hearing about the ordinance; the majority supported the measure. 

Farxan said he’s completed close to 7,000 trips since he started driving for Uber in 2018, and supports the ordinance because most of his trips either start or end in Minneapolis.

“There’s a lot of hotels that are based in a lot of businesses, the nightlife, the convention center, so this is going to be a great boost,” Farxan said.

A few people spoke out against the ordinance, all claiming to be affiliated with the Minnesota Rideshare Drivers Association (MRDA).

MRDA speakers asked the committee to reconsider passing the proposed ordinance, and instead let a task force under Governor Tim Walz shape legislation next year that will apply to drivers statewide.

MRDA hosted a talk with Uber and local drivers in January, and supports the task force—Committee on the Compensation, Wellbeing, and Fair Treatment of Transportation Network Company Drivers—created by Walz.

Council member Robin Wonsley, lead author of the proposed ordinance, said it was not their job as council members to defer issues to the state. She also noted that the governor’s task force was an advisory body that was not elected by the people.

“They should not be deferring those responsibilities to a state entity, when you ask them to be responsive to your needs as Minneapolis constituents,” Wonsley said. “We are elected to serve you.”

Driver Ahmed Ahmed, said “something is better than nothing,” and spoke in support of the proposed ordinance. Even if it doesn’t cover the whole state, he said, there would still be a substantial increase in wages and protections to drivers working out of Minneapolis.

“It’s a good start. So, we’re gonna go one step at a time,” Ahmed said. “Today we are in Minneapolis and we will never give up. We’re gonna go until we’re statewide.”

Ahmed also said an increase in wages would allow him a day off to spend time with his kids, which he currently can’t because he works seven days a week.

Council Member Jamal Osman, who supports the ordinance, told drivers at an August 2 informational session that he expected the proposed ordinance to pass the committee vote Tuesday, but said some council members aren’t on board with the proposal.

Wonsley and fellow Council Member Jason Chavez also support the ordinance. The 10 other council members did not return messages seeking comment on the matter.

Osman and Chavez are also on the six-member Business, Inspections, Housing & Zoning Committee that voted Tuesday.

Mayor Jacob Frey’s office sent Sahan a statement Tuesday regarding the proposed ordinance, saying he supports drivers being paid more, but that the issue is very complex and requires “more information.”

“This ordinance has moved through the legislative process with little deliberation, and there is essential information needed — including from TNCs — to make good, transparent policy decisions. The mayor will continue discussions with stakeholders before making a final decision,” read the statement.

TNC stands for Transportation Network Companies, otherwise known as rideshare companies.

The proposed ordinance needs a majority vote to pass in the full council. However, if Frey vetoes the ordinance, it needs the support of nine council members to override the veto.

Rideshare drivers and the public attended informational sessions last week to learn more about the proposed ordinance.

Drivers met with Chavez, Osman, and Wonsley on August 2 and asked about compensation, driver safety, and the proposed ordinance’s jurisdiction.

Wonsley told drivers the ordinance would only apply to portions of their drives that occur in Minneapolis. For example, if a driver picked up a customer in a suburb and traveled through part of Minneapolis before dropping the customer off in another suburb, the increased wages would only apply to the Minneapolis segment of the drive.

Abdullahi Abdi, a member of the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association, sits in the vehicle he uses to ferry passengers across the Twin Cities metro area. Abdullahi attended an information meeting on August 2, 2023, about a proposed rideshare ordinance in Minneapolis. Credit: Aaron Nesheim | Sahan Journal

Drivers debated whether or not neighboring towns would be included because they are often categorized as Minneapolis on Uber’s map, but were told by council members that it’d be up to the rideshare companies to fix their maps.

Some drivers raised questions about the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association (MULDA) and its involvement in the creation of the proposed ordinance. They asked whether MULDA would be in charge of a driver resource center that the city would fund should the ordinance pass.

Many drivers expressed distrust with another driver group, MRDA, and expressed their support for MULDA, which was at the forefront of a rideshare bill passed by the Legislature this year that was vetoed by Walz in May.

Weeks after Walz’s veto, the governor announced members of the Committee on the Compensation, Wellbeing, and Fair Treatment of Transportation Network Company Drivers. The governor’s committee is tasked with researching rideshare issues and helping shape policy for next year’s legislative session.

The governor’s office said in an email to Sahan Journal that Walz remains committed to finding a solution that balances the interests of all parties, including drivers and riders.

“The committee has begun meeting and will continue to meet in the coming months. The Governor looks forward to hearing their recommendations that will inform rideshare legislation next year,” the email read.

Uber spokesperson, Freddi Goldstein is a part of Walz’s task force and said the change drivers are demanding is already in the works with the task force and should be handled at a statewide level.

“We’re proud to serve on the Governor’s Task Force and look forward to coming up with a framework for statewide legislation,” Goldstein said. “Which is how this issue should be handled, rather than a patchwork of different rules and regulations statewide.”

Lyft was more critical of the city’s proposed ordinance, and said in a statement to Sahan Journal that the proposal “doubles down on the flawed” bill vetoed by Walz.

“Lyft is actually part of the state’s task force on this very issue and is currently working with drivers and other stakeholders, including the city of Minneapolis, to make recommendations grounded in actual data on how best to support rideshare drivers,” Lyft said in a statement. “Instead of ramming through bad policy on the backs of riders, we should wait for the task force to complete its work.”

The task force also includes rideshare drivers, among others.

Despite Uber and Lyft’s opposition, some U.S. cities have successfully passed ordinances similar to the one Minneapolis is entertaining.

Seattle passed an ordinance in 2020 that guaranteed a “minimum trip amount” of $5 for drivers or a per mile payment of $1.33.

Seattle’s ordinance also addressed “deactivations,” which occurs when a rideshare company shuts down a driver’s account for things like rider complaints. Seattle’s ordinance worked to protect drivers from unwarranted deactivation and granted them a right to challenge those deactivations via an appeals process.

It also created a Driver Resolution Center to provide drivers with “culturally competent outreach and education” as well as fee-free skilled representation in deactivation disputes.

Both those measures are included in the proposed ordinance in Minneapolis.

Seattle’s ordinance was replaced in early 2023 by a state law that established statewide requirements for rideshare companies.

Wonsley said in late July that the proposed city ordinance wouldn’t interfere with state legislation, and would instead serve as a catalyst for change.

Alfonzo Galvan is a reporter for Sahan Journal, covering work, labor, small business, and entrepreneurship. Before joining Sahan Journal, he covered breaking news and immigrant communities in South Dakota,...