Labor Challenges for Transportation: From Bus Drivers to Gig Workers

Research Team: Jacob Wasserman (lead), Susan Shaheen, Adam Cohen, Jacquelyn Broader, and Sarah White

UC Campus(es): UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA

Problem Statement: The most pressing problems facing public transit agencies and transit operations today are the worker shortage and issues of workforce availability and working conditions. Labor issues are a key factor in transit’s struggle to return service to pre-pandemic levels. To both restore service in the short term and plan for service evolution in the long term, policymakers must understand current conditions in the transit labor market and the best ways to respond. On a parallel track, transportation network companies (TNCs), a hybrid form of taxis and for-hire services that are pre-booked, have become an increasingly mainstream part of the transportation sector. To facilitate their market entry, many laws were enacted in California and across the country allowing these services to self-regulate or operate under partial deregulation. Initially, TNCs operated with limited vetting of drivers and vehicles, but as they became more popular, new laws were passed to formalize the sector and regulate its labor practices (e.g., California Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) and Proposition 22). Because TNC drivers don’t fit a single labor profile–they range from part-time workers who drive for supplemental income to full-time workers who depend on driving for their livelihood–more research is needed to understand how AB 5 and Proposition 22 are impacting them. Research is also needed on how macroeconomic trends such as rising fuel prices affect TNC driving as a pathway to quality jobs.

Project Description: The project will investigate the big issues in public transit and TNC labor today and the perspectives (and conflicts) between the different stakeholders, including management, unions, operators/drivers, and riders. With respect to public transit, the project will examine why there is a labor shortage and ways to effectively address it. The research will analyze both “push” factors (e.g., drivers not wanting to get sick, enforce public health protocols, or conduct other stressful customer interactions) and “pull” factors (e.g., hiring bonuses at trucking and delivery firms, competition within the public transit industry, and rising wages and inflation across all sectors) behind current market trends. With respect to taxis and TNCs, this project will examine an array of cross-cutting labor issues, such as the impact of rising gas prices on TNC drivers, the ability for app-based platforms to recruit and retain drivers, the impacts of placing taxi drivers on TNC platforms, and the role of labor policies on driver access to quality jobs.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $140,000