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Lyft sues over new rule that it pay its NYC drivers $17 an hour

The new wage regulations add "a lot of money in our pockets," one ride-share driver said. "I work 50 to 60 hours a week barely making ends meet."

Two ride-sharing companies that compete with Uber are suing to block new rules requiring they pay their drivers in New York City a minimum wage of at least $17.22 per hour after expenses.

Lyft and Juno filed suit Wednesday against the city over the regulations that are set to go into place Friday. The rules are the first in the U.S. to mandate a minimum wage for ride-share drivers.

Drivers and their advocates say the regulations would ensure that the typically low-paid employees are able to make a livable wage, while Lyft says the rules only stand to benefit its mega-sized competitor, Uber.

"The new regulations are great for drivers because it adds a lot of money in our pockets," Aziz Bah, who drives for Lyft, Juno, and Uber, told NBC News. "I work 50 to 60 hours a week barely making ends meet. If someone works those long hours, they should be able to make decent money."

A higher wage would be a significant boost for drivers, 85 percent of whom make less than New York City's overall minimum wage of $15 an hour, according to the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC).

The average ride-share driver currently makes $11.90 an hour, according to the Independent Drivers Guild, which represents more than 70,000 app-based drivers in the city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted his support for the new regulations on Wednesday, calling the suits by Lyft and Juno “unconscionable.” “The overwhelming majority of these companies’ drivers earn less than minimum wage. We won’t stand for it in New York City,” he wrote.

“These rules protect thousands of hardworking drivers who work for the four busiest app companies,” a city Law Department spokesperson told NBC News. “The rules ensure minimum income protections, are fair and legal, and we'll vigorously defend them in court.”

"We invest in our cars. We pay insurance. We are doing all the hard labor, so why are they trying to take that pay from us?

Aziz Bah, a ride-share driver in New York City

Lyft told NBC News it is not opposed to higher pay for drivers. Instead, the company says it is concerned about "the specific way the TLC plans to implement the rules."

In a statement to the court, Lyft said the current regulations would “increase prices for passengers,” “[reduce] ride demand overall,” and also “increase congestion” in heavily-trafficked areas.

The company is also arguing that the regulations would stand to benefit Uber, the biggest ride-sharing app in the city.

The new rules, according to Lyft, encourage drivers to take passengers on shorter rides at greater frequency.

Lyft says because Uber carries more passengers and has a greater market share, the regulations will allow Uber to “quickly monopolize the market" to itss detriment.

“It’s no secret that Uber has tried to put us out of business in the past,” Lyft said. “They’ve failed repeatedly, and the TLC should not assist them in their efforts.”

In the suit Lyft also said it is “ready to work with TLC to ensure that drivers earn as much as possible.”

However, advocates for the drivers have a different view of Lyft's intentions.

“The idea that this lawsuit is about anything other than avoiding paying drivers a fair wage is laughable,” Jim Conigliaro, Jr., founder of the Independent Drivers Guild, said in a statement to NBC News.

The Independent Drivers Guild fought for the new rules, believing they would increase the salaries of almost all drivers who currently make less than minimum wage by “an average of nearly $10,000 per year.”

“Lyft has had every opportunity to pay a livable wage and they refused to do so—and now that we won a legal mandate, they are still refusing to pay a fair wage,” Conigliaro said.

The court did not grant a temporary restraining order on the new rules requested by Lyft and Juno, according to taxi commission. While the case continues, Lyft and Juno will most likely be required to put their drivers' pay differentials into an escrow account.

Meera Joshi, commissioner and chair of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, said this means “professional drivers who live from paycheck to paycheck will be deprived of the benefit of their well-deserved and long overdue raise”—and will have to wait until the next court date, March 18, to find out what will happen.

For drivers like Bah, a delayed raise means less time with his two children because he will have to continue working up to 60 hours a week. "They shouldn't hold our raise hostage just because they want to protect their own personal interests," Bah said.

He believes ride-share apps "forget the drivers that are running their business."

"We invest in our cars. We pay insurance. We are doing all the hard labor, so why are they trying to take that pay from us? That’s something I can't even wrap my mind around"

NBC News was unable to reach Juno and Uber for comment.