Uber and Lyft kicked off a defense of their worker classification status quo Monday by pitching themselves as technology companies that facilitate easier transportation, not outright transportation providers.

Laying out the case they will make before a Suffolk Superior Court judge over the coming weeks, state prosecutors alleged that Uber and Lyft have long violated state law by treating drivers as independent contractors instead of employees, while attorneys for the popular ride-for-hire platforms contended that they connect drivers and passengers without exerting the traditional control of an employer.

Attorneys for the companies said repeatedly in their opening arguments that drivers are free to work as little or as much as they want, set their own schedules, and cross back and forth between competing platforms, giving them independence that standard employees do not have.

The core business of Uber and Lyft, their lawyers argued, is the technology connecting drivers and potential riders through apps, not the trips themselves. One Uber attorney pointed out that the company does not “own a fleet of cars or trucks,” and likened it instead to a travel agent, who steers would-be vacationers toward local transportation options such as bus tours.

“But a travel agent isn’t a provider of transportation,” said Michele Maryott, a member of Uber’s legal team. “A travel agent is an intermediary between those who want a service and those who have a service to provide.”

(Copyright (c) 2024 State House News Service.

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