Rideshare companies struggle to rebound as Nashville lifts COVID restrictions

rideshare driver.jpeg
Posted at 8:31 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 12:19:27-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It’s uncharted territory for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft as we see a spike in demand for rides, with not enough drivers in Nashville.

People have noticed rides taking much longer to reach them and costing 2-3 times as much as they used to. Rideshare has increased in demand for Nashville as COVID-19 restrictions have expired this past Friday.

You’re still required to wear a mask in these vehicles, but drivers like Michael Custor say he gets about three rides for every 20 who don’t have a mask. Custor waited until he was fully vaccinated before he returned to driving. There’s still a hesitation when he gets behind the wheel that he says drivers everywhere are experiencing.

“A lot of people still haven’t been vaccinated and I know as a driver, I'm not really interested in locking myself in a box with people I don’t know who might be ill or who I could make ill. So for the drivers, I think as we see more vaccinated, we will see more coming out,” Custor said.

Fewer drivers mean a longer wait in between rides. Custor has driven for both Uber and Lyft and says rides that were once five minutes away, are now closer to 15-20 minutes. Both companies said they're working to meet this rising demand by incentivizing drivers to return to Nashville.

Here’s a statement from Lyft:

“We’re seeing big increases in demand for rides, as vaccines roll out and people get ready to start moving again. We’re working to meet demand, including providing incentives to drivers, who are busier and earning more than they were even before the pandemic.”

Lyft noted that they make it clear to riders before they accept a fare, that this is a price that may be more expensive because of how busy it is at the moment.

This is often called surge pricing. Lyft wouldn’t detail their driver incentives but said about 17 percent of their drivers in Nashville drove more during the pandemic after losing their jobs or having their hours cut. Therefore, they understand why more income is necessary.

Uber stated:

“With more people getting vaccinated and moving around, riders in Nashville are using the Uber app more. To meet this returning rising demand, we are reinvesting in bringing back drivers who are an essential part of the community and are helping get the city moving again.”

Uber says they’ve temporarily boosted earnings for their Nashville drivers, so those working at least 20 hours a week earn nearly $24/hr. The earnings boost is expected to last for the next several months or until Uber has enough drivers to meet demand. Then earnings will return to their pre-pandemic rates.

“This does not mean that drivers are making a lot more,” Custor said.

Custor explained how we pay more during peak hours so when it’s not as busy, Uber can still afford to have someone pick us up.

“Uber has to be able to provide pay for drivers who are working those times and those areas,” Custor said.

Custor predicts drivers will come back. The pay seems to add up and for now, masks are still required in the car. As long as you need a ride, he says they will be on the way.