As ride requests shrivel up and shared rides are pulled from the Uber and Lyft apps, drivers are feeling the economic impact of COVID-19, the official term for the disease spreading in the new coronavirus outbreak. With most of the U.S. ordered to shelter in place or socially distance, drivers are nearly out of work.
The sudden change in demand is prompting creative thinking to get gig workers back to steady employment, or at the very least, paid.
The Hustle daily business newsletter spoke with 58 full-time U.S. Uber drivers last week and found that average rides per day had dropped from 23 to six and weekly pay from $1,072 to $348. Broken down hourly, pay went from $22 to $9.
During a call Tuesday with two San Francisco Board of Supervisors members and Uber drivers from the ride-share advocacy groups We Drive Progress and Gig Workers Rising, a resolution was unveiled to change driver employment status ASAP. This would kick in benefits like paid sick leave and unemployment insurance.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, the resolution — which calls for an emergency enforcement of California’s controversial bill AB 5, which would turn many contract workers into employees — was officially introduced. The proposed change would affect only the city of San Francisco.
One Uber driver, Saori Okawa, said on the call that for the past year she’s been driving for Uber up to 80 hours per week. But what used to be a three-minute wait to get a ride request is now taking 30 to 45 minutes. “We drivers are in a state of emergency,” she said. “There is no business for us.” Earlier this week, she said she earned $75 (before expenses) after driving for a whole shift. “I wish I could work from home like other workers,” she lamented.
There are efforts across the country to keep drivers working, or at least working in less risky situations.
In New York City, registered ride-share drivers were offered delivery work making $15 per hour to deliver goods for the city through the city’s taxi and ride-share division. Lyft is offering similar delivery opportunities for healthcare services, government agencies, and businesses, along with more risky rides for Lyft’s LyftUp Driver Community Task Force to get essential workers to places like grocery stores and hospitals, and caretakers to the homes of those who need them.
Lyft told drivers it would post any temporary work opportunities Lyft finds from other companies in a weekly email to drivers. Uber Eats and other food delivery apps are a popular alternative for app-based work opportunities.
This week, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi called for U.S. legislators to include Uber drivers in any stimulus packages. A deal on a $2 trillion federal package was struck early Wednesday. Lyft leadership had also promised to work with legislators to protect underworked drivers.
2/2 I’ve also asked lawmakers to require companies like @Uber to provide new benefits and protections to independent contractors going forward. Together we can create a new standard for flexible work that benefits all who choose it and is available to as many people as possible.
— dara khosrowshahi (@dkhos) March 23, 2020
While gig worker protections and employee classifications were a global issue long before pandemic struck — a case in France earlier this month ruled that one driver could be classified as an employee and not an independent contractor — the crisis is now pushing companies and lawmakers to reconsider how they protect their employees.
It’s telling that in Lyft’s public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission from 2019 it spells out how disastrous this very situation we’re in could be.
Any unforeseen public health crises, such as epidemics, political crises, such as terrorist attacks, war and other political instability, or other catastrophic events, whether in the United States or abroad, could adversely affect our operations or the economy as a whole. The impact of any natural disaster, act of terrorism or other disruption to us or our third-party providers’ abilities could result in decreased demand for our offerings or a delay in the provision of our offerings, which could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. All of the aforementioned risks may be further increased if our disaster recovery plans prove to be inadequate.
Drivers are clinging to those disaster recovery plans.