This is a profile of Driver’s Seat Cooperative, a Data Futures Lab Prototype Fund awardee.
The gig economy — and especially the rideshare and delivery industries — generates a breathtaking volume of data. In a single day, information is produced about millions of transactions: where people are traveling from and to, what they’re ordering and when, how much they’re paying, and far more.
Yet the people at the very center of this story — the gig workers transporting passengers and delivering food and packages — have surprisingly little access to this data. Instead, that data is tightly held (and leveraged) by the platforms themselves, like Uber. Meanwhile, gig workers must earn a livelihood based on the data fragments that are available to them.
“Drivers have some access to data about when and where and how to work — when that data is in the platforms’ best interest,” explains Hays Witt, the co-founder and CEO of Driver’s Seat Cooperative, a driver-owned cooperative based in Portland, Oregon.
Indeed, drivers are often deluged with messages to visit a surge area, pick up this order, or work X more hours to get a small bonus. These messages serve the platforms’ bottom line, but not necessarily the drivers’. “It’s hard to evaluate if these are actually a good deal, or if you’d just be better off getting a scratch-off lottery ticket,” Witt says.
“They’re designed to get you to go where the company wants you to go, without the company really telling you to go there — because then you’d be an employee,” he adds, alluding to gig workers’ long odyssey to be identified as employees and earn the benefits that come with that.
In an industry where gig workers are at the losing end of this data imbalance, Driver’s Seat Cooperative seeks to balance the scales. “Driver’s Seat is here to help gig workers make the gig economy work for them,” Witt explains.
Driver’s Seat does this by allowing drivers to collect and share data with each other, building a shared knowledge about the work they do. “We help gig workers get access to their data and share it with each other, learn from it, and make more money at work,” Witt says.
The main tool is a mobile app that drivers can use to track their total earnings, hourly wage, active hours, expenses, and other vital information. In addition to tracking and parsing this data on an individual basis, it also shows it relative to other drivers, offering valuable insights like the most productive time to work, and which platforms pay best. ”You’re seeing an analysis of your data you couldn’t otherwise get,” Witt says. “Having technology and data science on your side can really make a difference.”
Members of the cooperative are often stunned by what they learn, Witt says, granting them a new — and more lucrative — strategy for gig work. “It allows them to optimize their driving strategy,” he explains. “It’s exciting to see drivers choose which platform they’re going to work on and which platform they’re not going to work on, based on new analyses of their data.”
In addition to better insights, Driver’s Seat can also provide a sense of community. “The work is really isolating, and it can be really hard to figure out how your experience compares to others,” Witt says.
Driver’s Seat is here to help gig workers make the gig economy work for them.
Hays Witt, co-founder and CEO of Driver’s Seat Cooperative
As the community of gig workers expands, Witt says there’s an appetite for more than pooling data. Drivers can also work together to push for public policy changes. For example in 2021, a similar drivers-led organization the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) successfully lobbied the UK Supreme Court to classify Uber drivers as workers.
Initiatives like Drivers Seat can also shift the data imbalance for another entity: cities. “Cities are another stakeholder in the gig economy who need data, but can’t get it,” Witt explains. Gig work unfolds on city streets and sidewalks, yet municipal leaders are locked out of the data. That means they can’t use that information to reduce congestion, mitigate emissions, plan parking, and do other essential tasks. “Cities struggle to get the basic data they need to determine what’s really happening out there,” Witt says.
And so one way Driver’s Seat supports its cooperative model is by working with clients like transportation planners, regulators, and developers.
As the gig economy grows, so is Driver’s Seat. In 2022, the cooperative is opening footprints in three new markets, and also hiring in-house engineers to supercharge their capabilities. And of course, the organization is bringing more drivers into the fold. “The way change happens is people start analyzing their situation: first on their own, and then together with others who share their circumstances. And then they identify shared problems, goals, and actions — together,” Witt says.