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Alissa Orlando: Putting Drivers in the Driving Seat of the For-Hire Vehicle Industry

Alissa Orlando: Putting Drivers in the Driving Seat of the For-Hire Vehicle Industry

Hi! It’s me, Spiffy, the interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with the latest scoop on entrepreneurs making a difference for all of us around the world! Today’s rockstar is Alissa Orlando, the co-founder of The Drivers Cooperative.

Spiffy: Welcome to the blog, Alissa! Let’s jump right in. What challenge are you addressing with The Drivers Cooperative?

Alissa: Great to be here, Spiffy! The Drivers Cooperative is a driver-owned ride-hailing cooperative in New York City. Drivers make more on each trip, all profits go back to drivers, and drivers have democratic control over the decisions that affect their lives. Our mission is to end exploitative conditions in the for-hire vehicle industry through system change—putting drivers in the driver’s seat of the platform economy.

Spiffy: That’s neat! What motivated you to do it?

Alissa: I worked at Uber and saw the abuse of drivers and the greed of drivers. 

Spiffy: How are you and the company working towards a more equitable world?

Alissa: In New York City, our competitors—Uber and Lyft—run on the exploited labor of a workforce of 85,000 drivers, 91% of which is made up of immigrants. They push drivers into poverty by taking a commission of up to 40% on each trip, externalizing the cost of vehicle purchases, insurance, maintenance, and the risk of doing business onto workers, and misclassifying drivers as independent contractors in order to avoid paying at least minimum wage and providing benefits and basic employment rights. Even before the crisis, over 70% of drivers had fewer than $1,000 in savings, a reflection of New York City’s deep racial wealth gap and the predatory structure of the rideshare platform economy.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organizational initiative and the impact it has had on your community.

Alissa: We pivoted to government-funded transportation (MTA Access-a-Ride and Medicaid non-emergency medical transportation). This means that we can increase our fulfillment rate and do more trips.

Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?

Alissa: I actually think giving up can be the answer sometimes. If something is no longer serving you because you are not getting the respect that every human is entitled to, I think giving up is a way to assert your worth. So when you are telling yourself no, give up! When someone else is telling you no, keep pushing. The cooperative was told no by basically every major institutional funder, so we raised over $1.5 million via WeFunder from our community.  I am now working with Zebras Unite and the National Cooperative Bank to figure out how to move more capital towards cooperatives so future founders don't face what we experienced at The Drivers Cooperative.

Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?

Alissa: I have learned that humans are meant to be creative and generative, and I’ve learned the importance of self-compassion, not just self-esteem.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Alissa—it’s been an honor!

Alissa Orlando is an experienced entrepreneur building businesses that realize a more equitable economy. She is working with Zebras Unite and Start.coop to build the financial ecosystem for worker-owned businesses. Previously, co-founded The Drivers Cooperative, which she built from scratch into the largest worker cooperative in the country in fewer than two years. (First published on the Ladderworks website on May 4, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.