Cabfair: Cooperative Ownership in the Gig-Economy
- Start Date
- Time Limited or Repeated?
- A single, defined period of time
- Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
- Deliver goods & services
- Independent action
- Open to All or Limited to Some?
- Open to All
- Type of Organizer/Manager
- Non-Governmental Organization
- Type of Funder
CabFair is a proposed, cooperative alternative to privately managed ride-hailing services. CabFair is part of the broader movement towards shared ownership and cooperative management in response to changing labour dynamics in the ‘gig economy’.
Problems and Purpose
Cabfair is one of many Uber-alternatives being created across Europe and the US. Like other cooperatively owned and managed enterprises in the digital age, Cabfair aims to decentralize the power of private- or corporately-owned apps and on-demand services to give employees and low-income communities more control and increased financial return from their work in the ‘gig economy’. According to the BBC, the gig economy is “a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs.” Compared by some to self-employment or the work of independent contractors, the gig economy offers employees flexibility but few workplace rights and protections.
Cabfair and other cooperatives attempt to give workers more say in the terms of their employment and to overcome the following problems associated with gig-work as observed by the UK Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee:
· Aspects of control by the contracting company over working patterns: for example, being assigned shifts or rounds, with the risk of work being permanently withdrawn or charges levied if workers failed to fulfil them;
· Workers who carried out regular working hours over substantial periods of time, up to periods of years for one company;
· An inability on the part of workers to negotiate or set pay;
· Workers experiencing difficulties in having “substitute” workers accepted by the contracting company, if they were unable to work their scheduled shifts; and
· Guidance given to salaried staff on how to avoid referring to their workers in terms that might imply an employer-employee relationship, in light of their employment model
Background History and Context
Commissioned by the British Parliament in 2017, the Matthew Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices describes the development and characteristics of the gig-economy – of which ride-hailing services like Uber, Lyft, and Cabfair are a part – as follows:
“Technology has facilitated new business models based around matching sellers and buyers of goods and services. This means that people can make money from assets that they own or their ability to do a certain type of work. The gig economy tends to refer to people using apps to sell their labour. The most commonly used examples are Uber and Deliveroo but there are many and a growing number of platforms facilitating working in this way.”
Uber has grown exponentially and now operates in 68 countries; but gig economy platforms like Uber can offer very challenging and precarious working conditions, downloading risk onto workers and providing now support or benefits for unemployment, illness, and old age. Uber has faced legal challenges from drivers in London arguing that they should be classified as employees rather than self-employed. The platforms themselves are opaque: Uber's worker reputation system is hosted on centralized, private servers. But these platforms do not have to be owned by shareholders: they can be cooperatively owned and run. When Uber and Lyft, another ride hailing app, abandoned the US city of Austin, Texas, the community driven non-profit ridesharing company RideAustin was launched, offering insurance for drivers and sharing profits by offering mobility programmes for under-served groups. Shortly thereafter, a similar initiative, Cabfair, grew out of the New Economics Foundation’s interest in the future of work and the impact of technology on employment.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
When Uber’s license to operate was revoked in London in 2017 NEF launched a crowdfunding campaign to develop a cooperatively owned alternative, raising more than £20,000 in a short period of time. (As of 2018, Uber continues to operate in London pending a legal appeal). NEF also secured NESTA funding from the Sharelab Fund to carry out research alongside a group of ex- Uber drivers in Bradford and Leeds who are developing a co-operative, worker-owned private hire app as an alternative to the big players. The research is intended to explore the viability of the model such as the technical solutions which may involve licensing an existing ride-sharing app rather than developing a whole new platform.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
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Methods and Tools Used
Technology can contribute to participation in many ways: the initial vision and functioning of the internet offered the potential for people to create their own spaces of agency. NEF aim to use established models of coproduction to ensure that the voices and needs of drivers and passengers are represented in the final product thus intending to cover the full spectrum of participation; involving, collaborating and empowering.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Crowdfunder which launched the CabFair project enables a limited degree of participation in that any member of the public could contribute and remain informed.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
This case is ongoing and has not had any measurable influence, outcomes, or effects. However, the establishment of CabFair is a success in itself as it demonstrates a step toward the creation of better working conditions and more agency for drivers over executive-level decisions. The CabFair cooperative will ultimately attempt to keep ride costs low by redistributing profits into the wallets of drivers and riders; construct a ‘workplace’ where workers have basic rights like sick pay and a pension; and provide a service that complies with existing customer safety and security regulations.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The project presents challenges in participation which NEF are currently exploring. Cooperatives function best when the values and interests of both sides are aligned; however this app aims to meet the needs of both drivers and passengers. There is a potential mismatch since drivers want good working conditions and users want cheap fares: meaning that the governance of the coop will need to resolve these problems. NEF have looked at the potential for technology platforms like Loomio to help overcome problems of governance in other co-operative projects so may do so with CabFair. Loomio is an open source decision making platform which was itself developed through a $100,000 crowdfunding project. Loomio offers simple functionality for groups of people with conflicting points of view to arrive at a consensus: enabling quieter voices to be heard and surfacing issues that need to be resolved.
 Scholz, T. (2016). PLATFORM COOPERATIVISM Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy. Retrieved January 4, 2019, from http://www.rosalux-nyc.org/platform-cooperativism-2/
 Field, F., & Forsey, A. (2016). “Sweated Labour - Uber and the ‘gig-economy’,” Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. Retrieved January 4, 2019, from http://www.frankfield.co.uk/upload/docs/Sweated%20Labour%20-%20Uber%20and%20the%20'gig%20economy'.pdf
 House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee. (2017). Self-employment and the gig economy (Report No.13). Retrieved from: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmworpen/847/847.pdf
 Taylor, M. (2017). Good work: the Taylor review of modern working practices. Retrieved from Gov.UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy website 1 January 2019: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/good-work-the-taylor-review-of-modern-working-practices
 “Uber Country and Language List,” Uber, accessed March 11, 2019, https://www.uber.com/en-CA/country-list/.
 Field and Forsey, “Sweated Labour - Uber and the ‘gig-economy’”
 Sarah Butler, “Uber Loses Appeal over Driver Employment Rights,” The Guardian (The Guardian, December 20, 2018), https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/dec/19/uber-loses-appeal-over-driver-employment-rights.
 Aric Jenkins, “Giving Your Uber Driver 5 Stars Isn’t Helping Anyone,” Fortune (Fortune, April 5, 2018), http://fortune.com/2018/04/05/uber-negative-ratings-stars/.
 “Frequently Asked Questions,” Ride Austin, accessed March 11, 2019, http://www.rideaustin.com/faq.
 “We Can Do Better than Uber,” Crowdfunder UK, 2017, https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/faircab.
 Alice Martin, “Project of the Day: Driver Co-Op,” P2P Foundation, November 21, 2017, https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/project-day-driver-co-op/2017/11/21.
 George Zarkadakis, “Do Platforms Work?,” Aeon, May 28, 2018, https://aeon.co/essays/workers-of-the-world-unite-on-distributed-digital-platforms.
 “We Can Do Better Than Uber,” The New Economics Foundation.
 Zarkadakis, “Do Platforms Work?”
 Duncan McCann and Edanur Yazici, Disrupting Together: The Challenged (And Opportunities) for Platform Co-operatives (Online: New Economics Foundation, 2018), 31, https://neweconomics.org/uploads/files/Disrupting-Together.pdf
 McCann and Yazici, Disrupting Together, 31.
Project Page on The New Economics Foundation Website: https://neweconomics.org/2017/05/cabfair
The New Economics Foundation: https://neweconomics.org/
The Cabfair Project: https://neweconomics.org/2017/05/cabfair
Platform Cooperative Movement: https://platform.coop/
The first submission of this Participedia entry was adapted from a research project by the Institute of Development Studies, 'Linking Participation and Economic Advancement’ licensed and reproduced under Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0).
Lead image: TaxiPoint, https://goo.gl/H4Ujbr