Supershuttle drivers say they face tough times under firm’s franchise system – the washington post gas tax in ct

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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that drivers were salaried employees before the company switched to a franchise model. They were previously paid an hourly wage.An earlier version of this article also incorrectly said that the company has increased the number of drivers in Baltimore by more than a third since 2010. In fact, SuperShuttle increased the number of drivers by about a third between 2006, when it had 64 drivers, and 2010, when it had 85 drivers. In 2011, the service had 83 drivers.The earlier version of this article also contained a description of one driver’s income that the company disputes. The story stated that SuperShuttle paid Okieriete Enajekpo $75,787.18 in 2009, but that after deducting expenses and the cost of paying a relief driver, “Enajekpo was left in the red.” The article should have included more complete information. The company says that in a 2009 income statement, Enajekpo reported $147,450.24 worth of business, including some tips. After subtracting fees owed to SuperShuttle, Enajekpo’s net pay from the company was $75,787.18. Enajekpo said that he paid for additonal expenses related to his franchise, including a relief driver, gas and car maintenance. His 2009 tax returns showed a net loss of $2,665. SuperShuttle says that it is not privy to drivers’ personal finances but that it believes average income for franchise drivers after all expenses and fees is $40,000 to $55,000. Enajekpo’s lawyer declined to comment further under the terms of a court settlement with SuperShuttle.

In the past 13 years, SuperShuttle has transformed its drivers into franchisees — what the company calls independent business owners. In doing so, SuperShuttle has shifted, in its own words, “hard to manage variable costs from the company” to the drivers, making “gross profits more stable and predictable.”

Some drivers say the shift has allowed them greater flexibility and a chance to start their own business. But Enajekpo and hundreds of other drivers across the country say the changes have done more harm than good — and, in a series of lawsuits, they say the company doesn’t allow drivers independence and is cheating them out of wages and benefits they would be entitled to as employees.

“It’s really a big racket,” says Mack Green, a Minneapolis driver who is also suing SuperShuttle. “It’s a good company for someone in the company. But the way they have it operating, they could never lose, because the driver is responsible for everything.”

SuperShuttle disagrees. “We offer an opportunity to independent business people who want to be in business for themselves a solid foundation, a good company, association and the means with which to be successful,” says Judy Robertson, head of franchising at SuperShuttle. “How a franchisee operates a business really is dependent on a franchisee, their drive.”

But drivers such as Enajekpo argue that’s not enough and say that a laundry list of rules don’t allow them real independence. For instance, they can’t advertise their own services. Drivers can’t use their van to work for any other company. And they can’t refuse a job when they’ve been waiting for hours at the airport and only get one passenger.

And they do get penalized. When former Baltimore driver Fred Tinsley was cited for wearing “non-uniform items” including a “white shirt without a tie, shirt tail out, brown sandal-type shoes,” he was given three days to comply or lose his franchise.

Some drivers also say it’s much harder these days to get enough work because SuperShuttle in Baltimore has increased the number of drivers by about a third between 2006, when it had 64 drivers, and 2010, when it had 85 drivers, even as revenue has hovered around $10 million. In 2011, the service had 83 drivers.

But Enajekpo says that he has seen the amount of work he gets slowly erode. It’s 8:30 a.m. when he drops off the two passengers at the airport from his $64 bid. He’s No. 36 in line for the next job. So Enajekpo pulls his van into a nearby Shell station and waits. “It’s going to be a while,” he says, pointing to a row of SuperShuttle vans at the station.