I am a ridehail driver from the Bay Area and I am writing this as a warning for what is to come in other areas of the US and as a resource for those who will inevitablly continue to drive throughout this pandemic. – Christian Perea
The situation here keeps changing faster than I can publish. I first started writing this in mid January as a guide for driving during flu season. I initially decided to hold off for fear of spreading misinformation or sounding like a crazy “doomer”. There were less than 20 cases in the US at that time. Since then, COVID-19 has quickly chased me down to my (literal) doorstep and ruined my year as a ridehail driver. I am now effectively unemployed; As business for Uber and Lyft is almost non-existent in the Bay Area. To make matters worse, choosing to take the risk of driving comes with a 7% fatality rate for those with my pre-existing condition.
The drop in business started slow at first. A few cases, mostly traceable from travel. There were less tourists and less business travelers throughout winter, but still things were still manageable. Then more cases were announced. Mostly traceable through the relatives and acquaintances of the first cases. Then, cases began to trickle in locally that were untraceable via community spread. Major moneymaking events like Facebook’s Global Marketing Summit and Game Developers Conference got cancelled along with a slew of other conventions and events
. All of which bring precious corporate accounts to the backseat of my car. The one event that continued in SF, the RSA Cybersecurity Conference announced two attendees
tested positive for COVID-19.
As the untraceable case count continues to rise throughout the Bay Area, the major tech companies have begun to mandate work-from-home policies. Some barring their employees from entering the office altogether. Most have at least greatly reduced the number of visitors at their offices. They seem to be following a plan similar to this one rolled out and published by Coinbase
. All this started slowly at first with only a handful of popular Tier I (FAANG & gang) tech companies but it has now begun rapidly expanding everywhere. Almost all offices here are now rapidly shifting to work from home policies as they face pressure from employees and public health officials to increase levels of social distancing to mitigate the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
Tourism in San Francisco has now frozen to a level of nonexistence. All of this is bad for business in the ridehail game. San Francisco’s Mayor has banned events on city property (and as of today, all events with more than 1000 attendees. A few miles down the Peninsula, Santa Clara has banned all events above 1000 people. Every local government is asking for more social distancing. Streets typically stacked with cars in The City are empty at rush hour. Blocks that previously took 45 minutes to at rush hour to navigate now yield green-synced lights worthy of setting your cruise control to. BART stations are empty.
The City now looks an awful lot like the week between Christmas and New Years Eve, but with a twilight of apocalypse placed between them.
Uber & Lyft Vehicles Are High Risk For Spreading Disease
Our cars are enclosed environments that carry large volumes of people with varying degrees of personal hygiene. Ridehail is a popular method of transport for those who are sick. We drive sick people to the doctors office and the hospital. More often than we ought to, we drive sick people to work.
We also drive a lot of elderly people who can no longer drive themselves. Providing a newfound degree of autonomy and freedom for seniors who would previously be confined to their homes. Uber and Lyft have aggressively pursued partnerships
and marketed themselves as a way for the elderly to travel. I love my elderly passengers because they tend to be polite, talkative, and positive. Using confirmed cases, COVID-19 appears to have a mortality rate
of 3% for those above the age of 60
, 8% above the age of 70, and 15% above the age of 80. The US CDC currently recommends
that people above the age of 60, and those with pre-existing conditions remain at home.
Taxi and Ridehail Are Already Spreading COVID-19
Unfortunately, there are already several instances of Taxi, Uber and other ridehail drivers coming into contact with people carrying COVID-19, getting the disease, and then spreading it to their passengers.
In February, Uber temporarily deactivated two drivers
for 14 days upon learning about their contact with an infected person. A few weeks later, an Uber driver was the first
person to test positive for the disease in the NYC borough of Queens.
Leading up to spread in the United States, the first death reported in Japan occurred after a taxi driver infected his 80 year old mother in law with COVID-19. The first infection in Japan occurred after a female cab driver gave a ride to a passenger from the Diamond Princess cruise. Another cab driver in Taiwan passed away
after he contracted the disease from tourists. Three cab drivers
have contracted the disease in Thailand, but so far show only mild symptoms. In Singapore, 2 cab drivers and 2 ridehail
drivers contracted the disease. The government in Singapore responded by donating 300,000 surgical masks and mandating that drivers take their temperature before they begin their shift each day.
My Recommendation: Stop Driving “Rideshare” Immediately
As these instances continue, the public will begin to recognize rideshare as a danger and risk factor and begin avoiding us. Your personal opinion on the danger of COVID-19 is not a factor because there will be no business. I realize many of us will still need to pay bills but it is important to recognize that what is coming for us will be a debilitating blow to ride volume and our ability to earn money. If you depend on this as your primary source of income than your time will probably be better spent looking for a different job. If you are driving in a part of the US that has not yet been affected much by the outbreak, than my guess is that you have around two weeks at best to get as much money together as possible before the hammer drops.
Switch To Package Delivery If You Can
If the gig-economy is your only source of income, you may have better chances and much higher business by switching to package and food delivery.
Amazon, Instacart, UberEATS, DoorDash, and Postmates are reportedly seeing an increase in business from people who are increasingly starting to self-isolate. Many of the delivery companies have also implemented “no-contact” features in their apps to lower the risk of spreading COVID-19.
I don’t think switching to delivery is a safe alternative so much as I think it is the lessor of two bad options. Switching from ridehail delivery will shift the risk from the interior of your car to the sanitation of local restaurants and the measures you take to protect yourself while in them. However, I think it is easier to control the surfaces you touch and the distance you keep in a restaurant than while driving 2+ people in your car.
Your Mission: Flatten The Curve
As COVID-19 spreads it is extremely important to do our part in slowing the rate of transmission so our healthcare system will be able to handle the increased demand on hospitals, ICU beds, intubation devices, and healthcare professionals.