‘We’re risking our life’: coronavirus takes a toll on essential workers still on the job

Those who work in grocery stores, public transportation, food service and sanitation risk getting sick in order to survive

Roughly 16 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the wake of immediate layoffs and furloughs due to shutdowns to try to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, triggering a generational economic crisis for millions of Americans.

Essential workers still on the job continue to get paid, but the stress of working as the coronavirus spreads throughout the United States is taking a heavy toll on those working in grocery stores, transportation, food service, sanitation and other areas as they risk exposure to the virus for themselves and their families.

The Guardian spoke to several workers who are on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic about their recent experiences.

Gail Rogers: McDonalds cashier for six years in Tampa, Florida

Fight for 15 Florida (@FightFor15FL)

BREAKING: Florida @McDonalds workers just walked off ON STRIKE.

The company won’t allow us to wear gloves or masks. McDonald’s must provide us with safe workplaces, but they’d rather lobby against #PaidSickLeave than do what’s right. #FightFor15 https://t.co/NqpVRr3lOo pic.twitter.com/kUidHf5JoE

March 31, 2020

McDonalds lobbied against paid sick leave inclusion for many of its workers in federal coronavirus relief legislation, as workers at McDonalds franchises, about 517,000 of them, receive no paid sick leave.

Gail Rogers, a 60-year-old cashier and kiosk operator, is one of those workers.

Two weeks ago I had to go to the hospital because I woke up very ill. I was tested for different viruses, including the coronavirus, and then I had to go home to be quarantined. I called the hospital the next day and they let me know my test came back negative. I was cleared from that, but I am supposed to be wearing a mask. I asked my manager if I could wear a mask and was told I couldnt use a mask, said Rogers.

She isnt provided any paid sick time off, health insurance benefits, or given additional hazard pay while working during the pandemic.

If we get sick, who is going to run the store? We dont want to be in a workplace where we feel theyre not supporting us or they cant pay us sick leave or give us health insurance if anything critical comes up, Rogers added.

McDonalds did not respond to a request for comment.

Matt Monaghan: public transit bus operator for 24 years in Staten Island, New York

New York is the current center of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, with more than 4,000 dead. Through the pandemic, public transit bus drivers have continued to operate regular schedules, though bus driver unions are working to develop reduced schedules with the city to protect drivers and the public from exposure to the virus.

I myself have anxiety, when people are on the bus, of catching this thing. We have families to go home to and we dont want to bring it home to our families. Its tough times right now but were doing the job and moving the city, said Monaghan. I carry my own Lysol on the bus, I disinfect what I can so I know its done right, because Im afraid of getting this thing.

Monaghan noted several bus operators have been or are currently hospitalized with coronavirus, and is hoping the bus schedules are reduced so operators can take time off to stay home.

Virender Rana: Uber driver for six years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Rana hasnt taken a day off in an attempt to try to make up for the earnings hes losing from the drastic decline in riders. Usually he makes $100 to $300 a day, now hes making around $50 a day for a 10- to 12-hour shift less than minimum wage.

It seems Uber doesnt care if you live or you die, said Virender Rana, an Uber driver. Photograph: Courtesy of Virender Rana

I have no money to pay the bills. As far as the maintenance, I have a couple issues with my car, but I cant fix it at this moment because I dont have any savings, Rana said.

Hes unable to make his credit card payments, and wont be able to cover his upcoming car payment. Rana noted the only thing Uber has offered drivers still on the road is giving a month off their car insurance payment through Uber.

We are taking chances. Were risking our life out here, so they could at least do something to protect us, give us some type of credit, step up and do something for drivers still on the road, said Rana. Earnings are way, way down, but Im still trying. Theres no appreciation, no comment from Uber, no thank you to drivers still providing services for this company. It seems they dont care if you live or you die.

A spokesperson for Uber referred to a blogpost issued by the company to outline the companys pandemic support initiatives.

Willy Solis: Shipt shopper since October 2019 in Dallas, Texas

Solis is immunocompromised, but hes working through the coronavirus pandemic because he needs the income. He doesnt even have basic hand sanitizer and claims Shipt, a delivery service owned by Target, doesnt provide any sort of training or support for shoppers through the pandemic, aside from sending them guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Were left out here to fend for ourselves, address issues and the customers orders as best as we can, said Willy Solis, a Shipt worker. Photograph: Courtesy of Willy Solis

He said Shipts support services are virtually non-existent at the moment because theyve been so overrun with demand.

We have zero phone support. You call the support number, it hangs up on you. Chat is taking hours. The other option is email, and Shipt is saying its taking them 10 days or longer to respond. Were left out here to fend for ourselves, address issues and the customers orders as best as we can, said Solis.

Tips have been decreasing, said Solis, thanks to frustrated customers, and there have been issues with tipping on the app. Shipt workers rely significantly on tips to subsidize their pay.

The money he makes is not enough to compensate for the risk were taking and the level of support we have to expel, he said. Were begging for support right now. Without being able to complete orders, its causing a situation financially where were being decimated and its becoming worthless for us to do this job, added Solis.

A Shipt spokesperson attributed delays to the increase of demand during the pandemic, and said the company is hiring more support agents and developing a way to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for shoppers. From the beginning, weve encouraged shoppers only to schedule themselves when they feel safe, and we have provided our shoppers with healthy hygiene habits recommended by the CDC, said the spokesperson.

Jerome Westpoint: sanitation worker for over 40 years in Atlanta, Georgia

Waste collection is consistently ranked one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States, and the coronavirus pandemic has only made matters worse.

Jerome Westpoint is a sanitation worker who says he and his colleagues are still waiting on orders to receive face masks. Photograph: Courtesy of Teamsters

Im in the industrial side of the business, said Westpoint. You do come into contact with hazardous material, sometimes you know it, sometimes you dont because everyone doesnt tell you what theyre putting in those containers.

You always have those fears because we pick up at hospitals, grocery stores, places like that, and youre going house to house. We dont know what is inside those containers. All we know is there is waste in there, but we dont know if people in these homes are infected with coronavirus and we dont know how theyre disposing of their waste.

He said workers are still waiting on orders to receive face masks to wear during work hours and it took several weeks for management to impose limitations on waste pickup, such as not picking up waste outside of containers.

Mariah Mitchell: Lyft driver for three years in Seattle, Washington

Every week, Mitchell, a single mother of three, pays $265 weekly to rent a car through Lyft, which has continued to bill full payments through the coronavirus pandemic despite declines in rides. She now receives a priority day once a week where Lyft directs rides to her, equating to about 20 rides for Mitchell. The rest of the week, rides are sparse, but Mitchell is still expected to continue making her car lease payments in addition to living expenses.

There are no rides. Youre lucky to get one, said Mitchell. The only day shes making money is on the one priority day per week she receives from Lyft, and she noted even those have decreased in pay. Before the pandemic, I could do 20 rides and make about $10 a ride. Now the rides are about $6 per ride. It should have gone up, not down, because were taking a risk.

Shes been unable to file for unemployment benefits yet, and Mitchell is concerned that shell receive little to no benefits due to the income she is still able to make. Mitchell also explained Lyft is not providing any PPE, and its been unavailable in the stores, making it impossible to sanitize her vehicle in between rides.

A Lyft spokesperson said in an email the company is working on finding new ways for drivers to earn income, such as delivery partnerships.

Joshua Spence: office janitor in Lubbock, Texas

Every time folks go out unnecessarily, we cleaning staff have to work extra hard and hope their carelessness wont hurt us, said Joshua Spence, an office janitor. Photograph: Courtesy of Joshua Spence

Through the coronavirus pandemic, Joshua Spences work schedule as an office janitor hasnt changed, nor has his low pay at $8.63 an hour. He spends the majority of his time at work directed to do menial cleaning jobs as the majority of the offices are not being used, but several office workers have continued to come in through the pandemic.

We have people who shouldnt be here coming on to campus to work in their offices so they can get out of the house, violating the stay-at-home order, and I dont know where theyve been, what theyve done, or how seriously they are taking this to begin with, yet I have to be here every workday to clean everything over and over again, said Spence. Every time folks go out unnecessarily we cleaning staff have to work extra hard and hope their carelessness wont hurt us.

Eric Anderson: grocery store clerk, Mulberry, Florida

Eric Anderson, 63, works at a grocery store to supplement his social security retirement income. At high risk due to his age and diabetes, Anderson has felt uneasy about the crowds at his grocery store in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis refrained from issuing a stay at home order until 1 April. He recently has taken a two-week unpaid leave and will probably extend it through the pandemic.

Nobody was staying home, so I had to, said Anderson. Im not getting paid, but as I told my manager Id rather be broke than dead. The people in my area were business as usual. What got to me was families, elderly people, babies, pregnant women, all came shopping. I worked through this past Friday getting more and more stressed, and when I went in last Saturday, every register was open, people lined up, self checkouts full, aisles full and I decided, enough.

Jessica Hockaday: Instacart shopper for one year in Raleigh, North Carolina

Jessica Hockaday has worked as an Instacart shopper for the past year in Raleigh, North Carolina, but has been unable to work the past few weeks because she has a heart condition cardiomyopathy and is high risk for Covid-19.

It was either my health or make money, said Jessica Hockaday of her decision to stop working for Instacart. Photograph: Courtesy of Jessica Hockaday

It was either my health or make money, said Hockaday. We just paid our bills yesterday. We have nothing left and my husbands next paycheck doesnt come in for another couple weeks. They truly dont care about us.

A mother of two, Hockaday started working for Instacart to supplement her husbands income, which isnt enough for her family to make ends meet. While shes been out of work during the pandemic, Instacart has not provided her with any income. She was ineligible to file for unemployment benefits as Instacart classifies their workers as independent contractors, though she will be eligible under the US Senates $2tn stimulus plan.

Its funny they call us independent contractors, but we get in trouble if we decline too many delivery batches. Theyre entirely in control and get nasty with you for removing a batch that wasnt paying enough, added Hockaday.

An Instacart spokesperson told the Guardian in an email: The health and safety of our entire community shoppers, customers, and employees is our first priority. Our goal is to offer a safe and flexible earnings opportunity to shoppers, while also proactively taking the appropriate precautionary measures to operate safely.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/12/essential-workers-coronavirus-outbreak-us

Can a commune revival fix London housing crisis?

(CNN)Upper Street, Islington, is the heart of chic and cosmopolitan North London — a mile-long stretch of award-winning restaurants, boutiques and public gardens.

The iconic Georgian houses rank among the British capital’s most desirable and expensive, with prices reaching $10 million. Local residents include movie stars Colin Firth and Emma Watson.
But just off the main street, tucked away among the stylish facades, is a parallel universe.
While the borough has shot upmarket, one of London’s oldest communes has never strayed from the vision of Franciscan Monk Greg Moore, who founded Islington Park Street Community in 1976, as a refuge for the vulnerable and low-paid.
Eighteen housemates, aged 19 to 79, share four grand old houses with the partitions removed. They also share resources and responsibilities, each paying $43 a week for food and bills, which has allowed them to survive in this elite neighborhood over four decades.
“People receive what they need and give what they can,” summarizes Karen Grace, a care worker who has spent five years at the home.
Places here are allocated according to need, and applicants are filtered to maintain a balance of age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and support needs — accommodating people that need care, and others that can provide it.
The community includes a victim of domestic abuse, an ex-prisoner, and people suffering with mental illnesses. Many have struggled to access social services outside, which are facing government cuts. “This is a place to have a sense of safety and support,” says Grace. “People here have experienced the opposite.”
Such an arrangement may seem more of a throwback to the idealism of swinging 1960s London than the modern metropolis with its surging skyline of luxury high-rise towers.
But in a city where the cost of living has shot up rapidly, the communal approach presents a potential solution for many struggling residents.

Tale of two cities

London’s property market has become increasingly unaffordable for many on middle and low incomes.
The average house price in the English capital recently passed $800,000 — Monaco and Hong Kong are the only more expensive cities, according to Knight Frank — and the year to 2014 saw a record 18% rise. Properties deemed “uninhabitable” by estate agents can fetch almost $1 million.
The rental sector offers little relief. British tenants pay the highest rents in Europe, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of wages, according to the National Housing Federation. A separate study found that Londoners pay around 60% of their incomes in rent, while some councils have even been forced to re-house low income residents outside the city.

London’s luxury underground living.

“For 30 years we have not built enough homes,” says Tom Copley, chair of the Housing Committee at the London Assembly. “We need 49,000 new homes a year to meet demand and fewer than half are being built. Many of these are luxury homes being bought by speculators that don’t serve the needs of the majority of Londoners.”
“We’re seeing huge overcrowding, people living in poor conditions, sky-high rents…and unfortunately these trends will continue.”
Islington Park Street is not immune to this harsh climate. Property owner One Housing Group — which acquired it from a philanthropic trust — is seeking to “decant” residents ahead of “potential sale of the land and property.”
Residents are fighting a legal battle to protect their community, and their campaign has struck a nerve with activists, politicians and celebrities.
“The wider issue is people being priced out of London and someone needs to bring attention to it,” says Grace. “It is social cleansing…I hope we can win our case and become a symbol of hope for the housing movement.”

New adventures in communal living

Yet the lack of affordable housing has also fostered creativity among struggling Londoners and new forms of communal living are emerging to relieve the pressure.
Property guardians‘ pay cheaper rent to stay in empty buildings, including office blocks and schools that can accommodate dozens. Inter-generational housing offers another solution, connecting struggling younger people with senior citizens that appreciate the company.
For those seeking more than just affordability, however, converted industrial zones have proved appealing by offering creative live-and-work spaces. Jose Castroviejo made the leap to a former textile factory in East London after months of couch surfing and “rip off rents.”
“I was attracted by the ethic and environment,” says Castroviejo, an events producer, originally from Madrid. “There is a sense of community…it’s tremendously creative and one of the only places in London where you say ‘hi’ to people on the street.”
Several hundred young, artistic people inhabit a network of converted spaces through an arrangement that makes one tenant a leaseholder that can sublet to dozens of housemates at lower than market rates.
Collective responsibilities are minimal, but spaces and resources are available to the community, and events such as the Hackney Wicked festival are undertaken collectively.
“There is a ‘freecycle’ element,” says Castroviejo. “Anything you don’t want that’s reusable is left in a hallway and usually within 24 hours it is re-absorbed into the community.”

The next top model

London also recently gained its first cohousing project — already a popular concept in Germany — which involves residents planning their own community with shared resources, spaces, and decision-making.
The Copper Lane development is home to 13 people, who spent six years and $3 million converting a disused nursery site into energy-efficient homes with communal gardens and a rooftop courtyard.
“We were looking for a way to retain our own self-contained living spaces, combined with indoor and outdoor spaces which would encourage different forms of interaction,” the residents explained in a statement.
Activists anticipate Copper Lane will be followed by many similar but diverse projects.
“We have over 75 groups (in Britain) who are developing,” says Sarah Hewitt of the UK Cohousing Network. “It’s growing fast… groups have different priorities, whether it’s about being eco-friendly, spiritual or affordable.”
Housing campaigner Leslie Barson is at the forefront of the movement in London. As a leader of the London Community Housing Co-operative (LCHC), she is developing a self-build project in the central borough of Westminster for dozens of families. She hopes the venture will tackle affordability and host social spaces for education and urban agriculture.
“Housing is just seen as a way of making money and it is driving people out,” says Barson. “People can’t afford enormous rents so they fall into housing benefit (welfare) and our tax money goes to subsidizing private landlords. We say rent should be no more than one-third of average earnings for the area.”
The LCHC hopes to eventually launch several new communities around the city, harnessing innovations such as straw bale building material to manage costs and sustainability.
The major obstacle is securing land, which generally goes to the highest bidder. Developers are obliged to provide a proportion of affordable housing, but rules can be skirted, and the definition of affordable housing has been questioned by leading charities.

Winning hearts and minds

The UK government has given qualified support to community development schemes through its ‘right to build’ initiative, which encourages local authorities to provide land for them, although it remains an uphill struggle.
“If you’re in a bidding war with a commercial operator you lose,” says Gavin Smart, director of policy and practice at the Chartered Institute for Housing. “Public sector finances are under intense pressure, and if local authorities let land go cheaper they take a loss.”
Barson wants more active support: “The Mayor should be telling councils to facilitate passing land to community builders. We’re entering new territory and need goodwill on all sides.”
The activist believes there is huge demand for these projects, which should provide leverage. If the authorities prove un-responsive, Barson says a rent strike is one option to convince them.
But if land is secured, there is still a psychological challenge for communal models. Proponents must overcome the aversion that many feel to the distinct lifestyle, and even veterans admit that adjustment takes time.
“People are used to living as individuals,” says Professor Paul Chatterton, founder of a cohousing community and author of “Low Impact Living“. “You need training to understand how to live and work together.”
Yet the luxury of choice may not last. If the pressure on London housing keeps growing, more of the city’s beleaguered residents could need each other to survive.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/02/business/commune-london/index.html

A Leviathan Sets Sail to Keep Turkey Warm

Turkey is getting a giant helper to avoid last December’s gas shortages.

The world’s biggest specialized vessel to import liquefied natural gas, a cheaper and quicker solution than a land-based facility, is on its way to help with imports of the fuel mainly used for heating and power generation. The MOL FSRU Challenger, as long as the Eiffel Tower, is expected to arrive from South Korea this month and start by year-end.

Last winter, a cold snap gripped the whole region, including Iran, where Turkey gets some of its gas from. That meant the nation couldn’t get hold of enough fuel to meet its booming gas demand and the grid asked private power plants to reduce fuel demand by as much as 90 percent.

A first floating storage and regasification unit, the Neptune, arrived in December to complement two onshore terminals at Aliaga and Marmara Ereglisi.

“We expect Turkey to import more than last winter, and last winter they increased demand,” said Gyorgy Vargha, chief executive officer of MET International AG, a Zug, Switzerland-based energy trader that trades LNG mainly in southern Europe. “It is a growing market.”

Turkey was the fastest-growing market for LNG imports after China, South Korea and Japan in the first half of the year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which forecasts uneven demand in the nation through 2030.

The 345-meter (1,132 feet) tanker can store 263,000 cubic meters of LNG, enough to cover more than a day’s gas demand in Turkey. It was sailing westward, just south of India as of Tuesday.

The ship can also export the fuel for use in neighboring regions, according to Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd., the owner and operator of the vessel.

State gas grid operator Botas Boru Hatlari Ile Petrol Tasima AS signed the lease agreement for the vessel, which will be located at Dortyol near the Syrian border.

Read more: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-24/a-leviathan-sets-sail-to-keep-turkey-warm

Uber settles with the government over its consumer privacy breaches

Lacking in privacy.

Image: DAVID CHANG/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Remember when Uber employees were reportedly tracking their ex-girlfriends and Beyonc with a secret God View feature?

Uber just admitted that it had flaws in its privacy guarantees. The ride-hailing giant agreed to settle charges from the Federal Trade Commission that it deceived customers by failing to monitor employee access to their personal information and that it failed to secure sensitive consumer data stored in the cloud.

Uber failed consumers in two key ways: First by misrepresenting the extent to which it monitored its employees access to personal information about users and drivers, and second by misrepresenting that it took reasonable steps to secure that data, FTC Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen said in a statement. This case shows that, even if youre a fast-growing company, you cant leave consumers behind: you must honor your privacy and security promises.

As part of its settlement agreement, Uber will implement a new privacy program, and be regularly and independently audited every two years for the next 20 years. Uber is also prohibited from misrepresenting how it monitors internal access to consumer information and how it protects consumer data.

“We are pleased to bring the FTCs investigation to a close,” Uber said in a statement. “The complaint involved practices that date as far back as 2014. Weve significantly strengthened our privacy and data security practices since then and will continue to invest heavily in these programs. In 2015, we hired our first Chief Security Officer and now employ hundreds of trained professionals dedicated to protecting user information. This settlement provides an opportunity to work with the FTC to further verify that our programs protect user privacy and personal information.”

The allegations specifically go back to November 2014, when news reports revealed these potential privacy failures. The next month, Uber developed an automated system for monitoring employee access to consumer information, but stopped using it less than a year later, the FTC said. These breaches applied to the personal information of both Uber riders and drivers.

As for cloud security, Uber relied on Amazon Web Services. A hacker accessed personal information about 100,000 Uber drivers in May 2014, which was especially bad from the FTC’s perspective because Uber promised its customers that data was “securely stored within [its] databases.”

WATCH: Gorgeous Aurora Borealis puts on show over Scotland in timelapse video

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/15/uber-ftc-settlement-privacy/

Why you don’t see snake emoji on Taylor Swift’s Instagram


Lose celebrities on Instagram and risk the entire platform collapsing. That’s something Kevin Systrom, CEO and cofounder of Instagram, realized last yearit inspired him to transform his app into a more “safe and inclusive” community, according to a new profile in Wired.

Instagram’s first test case: Taylor Swift and her snakes.

The pop singer, an active Instagram user who would frequently post photos of herself and her squad, was being harassed on the platform.

In the summer of 2016, after her public fallouts with Calvin Harris, Katy Perry, and Kim Kardashian, the comments below her posts “were followed almost entirely by snake emoji: snakes piled on snakes, snakes arranged numerically, snakes alternating with pigs,” the Wired piece reads.

Instagram took action. Now, you’ll most likely just see praise on praise on praise.

A post shared by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on Oct 24, 2016 at 5:39pm PDT

The platform had “quietly built a filter that would automatically delete specific words and emoji from users feeds.” For Swift, that meant no more snake emoji.

Instagram has continued to work to make Instagram a cleaner place. Last year, users were gifted the ability to disable all comments. In June, Instagram introduced new filters that will automatically block “certain offensive comments” and spam.

And we come back to Swift. Instagram has been training its technologya system named DeepTextwith, of all things, Kanye West’s rap lyrics.

“It also had trouble recognizing Kanye West lyrics,” the Wired piece reads, referencing West’s song Famous and the lyric: “I feel like me and Taylor still might have sex.”

“It was entirely at ease, however, with more creative Kanye insults like You left your fridge open / somebody just took a sandwich,” the piece continued.

But at least the snake filter is perfect.

WATCH: Gorgeous Aurora Borealis puts on show over Scotland in timelapse video

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/14/taylor-swift-instagram-comments-snakes-kevin-systrom-wired/

UK users will now be able to tip Uber drivers

Image: Getty Images

Uber has just launched a bunch of new features in the UK in a bid to appease drivers who are in a bitter dispute with the the company over labour rights … but not everybody is happy with the additions.

Starting August 15, UK riders will be able to reward their Uber drivers by leaving a tip through the app after each trip, the company announced in a press release. Uber users in the UK will also be able to tip their UberEATS drivers.

Tipping was introduced a few months ago in 100 cities in the US and Canada in response to a growing driver backlash. Now the feature is rolling out in the UK.

However, a union representing British Uber drivers said the feature is just an attempt at spinning the company ahead of a key ruling next month:

“This is a cynical PR move ahead of Uber’s appeal next month against last year’s employment tribunal ruling in favour of drivers. Despite its claims, Uber remains completely deaf to the most serious issue facing excessively long hours earning on average between 5 and 6 per hour,” James Farrar, Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) chair, said.

Tipping is not the only new feature that Uber is adding for drivers. The company is also adding “paid waiting time” for drivers, in which passengers will pay 20p for every minute they keep the driver waiting after the first two minutes. The change will be rolled out across the UK on August 22.

Other new features Uber has lined up is the “No thanks” button which allows drivers to instantly reject a trip request in place of waiting 10-20 seconds, and driver destinations, which will match drivers going to a specific area to passengers on a similar route.

Finally, Uber is adding trip request controls so drivers can choose not to receive less lucrative UberX trip requests.

But, according to Farrar, these additions aren’t enough to address issues of driver welfare.

If Uber was more concerned about driver welfare than it is with propping up its own dreadful reputation, it would have abided by the tribunal’s decision and guaranteed drivers a minimum wage and holiday pay,” Farrar said. “Instead, we are talking about ‘innovations’ such as a ‘fairer’ rating system and a ‘no thanks’ button. We say, thanks Uber but ‘no thanks.'”

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/14/uber-app-tipping-pr/

MoviePass offers users unlimited theater viewings for insanely low price

Image: Shutterstock / Liu zishan

For what won’t be the first or last time, a Netflix exec has completely changed the game. Starting Tuesday, MoviePass, an established app where users can see unlimited movies for a flat monthly rate, will cost just $9.95 a month.

Let’s repeat that. Unlimited movies in theaters for $9.95 a month.

MoviePass was started in 2011 and is now run by Netflix co-founder Mitch Lowe. It was $50 at the time, but movie theaters still pushed back at the possibility of lost profits. Lowe told Mashable via phone interview that MoviePass’s drastic new price model is a direct response to the increasing cost of tickets. He said that MoviePass subscribers go to the movies twice as often after signing up as they did before.

MoviePass was founded to make it easier for passionate moviegoers and casual fans to see films the way theyre meant to be seen in the theater, Lowe said in a press release. Our vision has always been to make the moviegoing experience more affordable and enjoyable for our subscribers. We are changing the way consumers think about going to the movies by making it possible to experience a broader array of films from the latest summer blockbuster to a critically-acclaimed documentary through a subscription model.”

The new pricing for customers is made possible by a sale to Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc, who will use MoviePass to study viewer behaviors and market to them more effectively. According to an email sent to existing subscribers, the price is guaranteed for at least 12 months.

I’ve been a MoviePass user since 2014, when it was $30/month ($35 in the notoriously costly New York City) and was limited to big theaters like AMC and Regal. You sign up and download the app, check in for the movie, and then use a special MoviePass debit card to pay for it. In the beginning, users could swipe once for any movie and go every 24 hours only a slight hassle if you wanted to see a movie one day at 8 p.m. and the next day at 6 p.m.

The rate quickly went up to $45 in big cities still reasonable given that the average New York movie ticket was now around $15.50 but spread to more theaters.The new MoviePass costs less for a month of unlimited viewing than a single, full-price movie ticket in major cities, but the average ticket price nationwide is around $8.50.

When the price hiked up further to $50, I put a hold on my membership. I paid normal ticket prices and felt my skin crawl as I swiped my own credit card for $16.50 and chewed gum to avoid spending any more on snacks. I quickly opted back in for a limited plan: $30.99/month for three movies still a steal if I used all three, but if I failed to go, I lost the money; there was no question of making it up in another month.

“The amount of transactions that happen, of people going to the movies 1.3 billion times a year U.S. is more than all the sporting events, all the entertainment events, all the live music events all combined,” Lowe told Mashable.

A press release shared more about MoviePass’ user demographics and financials, but most of the information is kept close to the chest.

MoviePass a true win-win-win situation for the moviegoer, the movie studios and the theaters. For the subscribers who, incidentally, represent a powerful demographic with 75% of the user base under 35 the low subscription cost enables them to see more movies than they may otherwise wait to see in post-theater release, which is critically important to the films that currently make up the release schedule. Itsfurther reported that subscribers, on average, have increased their annual movie-going budget four-fold.

So, what does this shocking, brazen, so-crazy-it-might work move mean for MoviePass and for movies? As Lowe noted, movie lovers with transaction fatigue can swipe more freely knowing that the bills have already been paid. They can take risks on bad movies or see things in theaters that they’d otherwise wait to see on streaming. Prices won’t deter users in cities with skyrocketing ticket prices, and at the same time it could boost actual ticket sales as people take advantage of those unlimited swipes. Lowe also said that in a few years, MoviePass hopes to be a one-stop shop for advanced tickets, assigned seats, and even concessions.

Now sign up already and get yourself to the movies.

Every editorial product is independently selected by Mashable journalists. If you buy something featured, we may earn an affiliate commission which helps support our journalism.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/15/new-moviepass-unlimited/