WASHINGTON — A small California startup wants to help Uber drivers cope with one their top grievances about working for the ridesharing giant — cost.
Driver activists have taken to the streets and online forums in recent weeks and months to complain about Uber allegedly taking a larger cut of their fares and lowering prices without consulting them.
Kaz Moayedi, a 36-year-old who also runs a digital marketing firm, created Gas4Ads early this summer to try and alleviate those issues. The company, which is not affiliated with or expressly approved by any ridesharing app, seeks to reimburse drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft the cost of gas in exchange for prime ad placement — right at the eye-level on the back of their headrests.
"I'm an Uber fan," Moayedi said. "So I took some rides and spoke to some of the drivers, and saw a need."
Moayedi wouldn't provide BuzzFeed News with the exact formula he uses to determine how much he'd pay back drivers, but it involves drivers sending in their weekly statements to Gas4Ads and once they calculate how far they'd driven, the company pays them back.
Joseph DeWolf, the co-founder of the California App-Based Drivers Association, said he has mixed feelings about that program. On the one hand he said drivers should be free to do what they want to increase their income. But he also noted that part of the benefit of what Uber offers is the fact that it's an alternative to a taxi. And placing ads inside, or even eventually outside, the vehicle could change that "not-a-taxi" feel.
"Personally I wouldn't do it because it cheapens the experience," he said.
DeWolf added that though Uber may not ban it directly, it's possible that if a rider dislikes the with-ad experience, a driver could receive a low rating, which could lead to a sudden suspension.
Uber didn't return a request for comment on their rules about third-party advertising services, and there isn't much historical context to guess how they'd respond if the program becomes popular. Uber drivers are "independent contractors," so theoretically they can do whatever they want with their vehicles.
"From what we know we're not going against any rules, if we did we wouldn't be doing it," Moayedi said. "From our perspective we aren't breaking any rules."
Uber has placed ads inside its own cars before, like when Delta advertised new USB ports on its airplanes by placing USB ports inside some Uber taxis.
But if there are other third-party advertising clients for Uber drivers, they have either been unsuccessful or poorly advertised. A quick Google search on the topic yields few results.
Gas4Ads is still in its very early stages. Mostly through Facebook advertising and word of mouth, Moayedi said he's managed to sign up a few hundred drivers, though he wouldn't provide any documentation. The true test will come either the first or second week of November, when the company will run its first big beta test in Los Angeles and Orange County, California, the only two cities it is in right now.
The company also has yet to draw any major advertisers — it's mostly local businesses and advertisers for local conferences — but Moayedi said if the beta launch is successful, they could try to expand.
"It's something that as it went along…it just seems like some people weren't making as much money as they hoped," Moayedi said. "Overall [reaction has] been very positive. Taking home some extra money was always something on top of their minds."
Jacob Fischler is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C.
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