On Monday, Jeff Perry, who’s been driving for Uber and Lyft for four years, shared on Twitter two videos showing unclean bathrooms for ride-hail drivers at San Francisco International Airport, one of the country's busiest airports. In the first video, filmed earlier that week, the handicapped and women's port-a-potties were padlocked, while unlocked facilities looked dirty, with piles of used toilet paper crowding the seats and empty hand sanitizer dispensers. The second video, filmed in July 2019, showed more padlocked handicapped and women's restrooms.
"Originally, when they had the first lot which was incredibly small, the bathrooms were always a disaster. There was no hand sanitizer, no hand washing station, it was just a disgusting mess," Jeff Perry told Motherboard. "When they moved it to where it currently is—right after that video I took back in July, that's when they opened Lot 3 and put in hand washing stations. But then they removed them maybe two, three months ago. They just have the hand sanitizer in the port-a-potties, but they’re out most of the time.”
This lack of bathroom access for gig workers is a consistent issue, especially with platforms like Uber and Lyft that demand long shifts without breaks. Whether at Uber support centers known as Greenlight Hubs, on the job delivering food, or other busy airports like LAX or JFK, gig workers are often expected to go hours without a bathroom break. Those who do take breaks risk their livelihood by getting a poor delivery rating or losing their spot in an airport queue.
“That bathroom is your only real place to stop long enough to use the restroom. Those bathrooms are extremely busy, it’s a constant flow of drivers,” Perry said. “There are tens of thousands of drivers coming through this lot every day and they’re only servicing them twice. That’s disgusting. By the time they get to them, it’s like an atom bomb of piss and shit went off in there.”
As companies like Uber and Lyft commit to classifying workers as independent contractors, drivers are left to fend for themselves in everything from taking breaks without losing a customer to finding a safe place to use a bathroom. Perry, who has mobility issues due to a physical disability, not only feels like he’s been abandoned by these ride-hail companies but forced to put himself in risky situations because of their commitment.
“I can complain [to Uber and Lyft], but there's no way to track that complaint and see if anything was actually done about it other than using my own eyes and seeing that nothing was done about it," Perry said. "Is it just Uber ignoring the complaint? Is it Uber going to SFO and SFO dropping the complaint?"
It's not as if there is a lack of resources to do something about this problem either. Ride-hailing is a huge revenue-generator for SFO: the airport increased its fee on every ride-hail trip that begins or ends at a terminal to $5 this year and also surcharges $3.60 on all trips that begin or end in a ride-hail zone at the top of their central garage. From 2014 to 2018, when its terminal fee was $3.80, not $5, the airport collected $39 million in fees.
"Public bathrooms aren't a new thing. They just require a level of care that's appropriate for the amount of use. SFO makes an astronomical amount of money off of fees. They can afford to hire somebody to take care of the bathrooms more regularly,” Perry said. “Uber drivers aren't inherently disgusting, nasty people that just throw their trash and pee all over everything. It's people doing the best they can with a really shitty situation.”
SFO and Lyft did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment. Uber declined to comment.