Life As We Know It: Rideshare Driving In A Time Of Pandemic

It’s hell out there for a lot of us. Including me, as a rideshare driver.

Ohio, Michigan, California, and many other states have closed bars, restaurants, and many other “non-essential” businesses. Many retail and service industry employees are in a state of shock and panic.

I almost feel selfish writing about this right now, but the experience of myself and other Lyft and Uber drivers is important right now. How is Covid-19, or Coronavirus affecting Lyft and Uber?

In short, it’s bad.

About three weeks ago, I did get some information from Lyft and Uber about the Covid-19 crisis, as it started building tension in Western Europe, and a little bit in the Pacific North West.
The recommendations were pretty basic and were essentially what the CDC told (and continues to tell) people. Wash your hands, try and keep hard surfaces clean, don’t work if you feel ill.

Covid 19’s impact is a moving target. This past Friday and Saturday, I was shocked at how strong the demand was. I had one of the best Saturdays I had in a long time, not many people out at the bars, but enough to keep consistent ride demand on my end. I did a lot of runs taking people to and from the grocery store, as they tried in vain to get basic items like toilet paper.

I tried to keep my car exceptionally clean and disinfected — although hand sanitizer and bleach are pretty scarce at stores right now, I happened to have a nearly-full canister of sanitizing wipes in my kitchen cabinet. I’ve been using them to wipe down the seats, door handles, seatbelt buckles, and other surfaces in my car.

Then Mike DeWine shut down all bars and restaurants the next day. Most of my rides come from shuttling people to and from nightlife spaces. A day later, gyms, movie theaters, and most everything else closed. Those rides are out.

Everyone else who can work from home is mandated to work from home. Very few rides to and from work. No one is flying anywhere, as suggested by the WHO and the CDC. I’ve never seen the Lyft/Uber airport queue so empty.

Demand is dead for rideshare.

No one is going anywhere, aside from the handful of people in retail, grocery stores, or other workplaces where they can’t work from home.
The State Of Ohio has expanded unemployment for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, I am an independent contractor, so I do not qualify for those benefits. I am on my own for this pandemic.

It is scary. As of right now, there is no moratorium on my bills, not my rent, not my car note, nor my insurance. Those bills are still due. And I have virtually no income. I have spent the last few days trying to stay calm. Trying to get as many writing jobs done, and do other work to get paid.

I wonder, should I risk going out and trying to drive for Lyft and Uber?

The tips have been mediocre when I drove Friday and Saturday before all bars and restaurants got closed. Although I am healthy and COVID-19 generally has mild symptoms for people like me, should I risk my health unnecessarily for money? Should I put myself and my roommates at risk for a job that probably still won’t pay my bills? I don’t know.

I have heard that services like DoorDash, Instacart, Shipt, and Uber Eats have seen a spike in popularity, but once again — I don’t know if the risks to my health worth it. I don’t know what the payment outlook is like for those services. As more and more people find themselves without work, there’s a very real possibility that the number of delivery drivers for these services will be overcrowded. No use trying to vie for orders that aren’t there. Not to mention, does that help slow the spread of COVID-19? Many sources are encouraging people to stay home as much as possible for the near future.

There’s talk of a few safety nets to be put in place in the near future.

Lyft and Uber both have a “coronavirus fund” that will pay drivers up to two weeks’ pay, but you’d have to be quarantined by the government or a medical professional. That would likely mean that you’d need to test positive for COVID-19. The US has barely tested 11,000 people. Self quarantines don’t count. No one knows how much money is in that fund account; if COVID-19 does take hold as intensely as some predict, that unknown amount of cash could run out very quickly.

The City of Columbus has also created a hardship fund but, I don’t live in Columbus — I live in a suburb, so I don’t qualify. Also, the fund is too small, Columbus city council is adamant that it will quickly run out.

Even those who do qualify for the expanded unemployment have been facing hard times trying to apply for it — the website has crashed from the sheer volume of so many people applying at once.
I am taking it one day at a time. I’ve been distracting myself with funny YouTube videos. And I might try and source some hand sanitizer and a mask, and give Lyft, Uber, Instacart, and Uber Eats a college try this week. I, like many other Americans, do not know what the next weeks will look like for us. There is talk there might be an emergency cash stimulus of some sort in the next few weeks. We will see.

Right now, I’m going to sip my wine and try and not panic. I’m hoping for the best for Ohio, America, and the World as a whole.

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