The later days of the coronavirus pandemic have seen a lot of unusual shortages throughout the economy, as supply chains are affected while demand emerges for atypical things.
One of those things is a shortage of Uber and Lyft drivers. Both companies were hurt during the pandemic, as far fewer people were around and traveling by car, although Uber saw success with its Uber Eats business. Even with cities reopening, a driver shortage has emerged for both ride-sharing companies.
Uber announced last month a plan to address it with a “stimulus” for drivers.
“We’re launching a $250 million driver stimulus to boost already high earnings for drivers. Boosted incentives and guarantees will help welcome existing drivers back to Uber and ensure first-time drivers do well as they learn the ropes,” the company said in a blog post in April. “ In 2020, many drivers stopped driving because they couldn’t count on getting enough trips to make it worth their time. In 2021, there are more riders requesting trips than there are drivers available to give them—making it a great time to be a driver.”
Lyft, meanwhile, has begun “covering the cost of rental cars, offering $800 bonuses to drivers to return to the app, and doling out extra cash to drivers when a trip lasts longer than nine minutes,” The Verge reported.
Meanwhile, ABC 7 in Los Angeles reported in early May that prices had soared for Uber and Lyft rides. One expert quoted in the story attributed that to the driver shortage, leading to fewer cars, and the shortage itself to some Americans continuing to collect enhanced employment benefits rather than returning to drive for Uber.
Boston Magazine reported in early May that “you can’t get an Uber or Lyft in Boston right now.” In addition to what has been happening in other places, the story attributed the scarcity in part to a state law banning surge pricing during emergencies. This gives drivers less of an incentive to go on the road.
Gov. Charlie Baker, per Commonwealth Magazine, has called, as long ago as last fall, for lifting the surge-pricing ban in Massachusetts, including language in a proposed budget bill to allow ride-sharing companies to implement such pricing during emergencies.
“We support Governor Baker’s proposed change because it would help improve wait times and driver earnings throughout the Commonwealth, while also bringing Massachusetts closer into alignment with approaches taken by other states on the issue,” Lyft said in a statement to Commonwealth.
President Biden announced earlier this month that Uber and Lyft had agreed to provide free rides to those getting coronavirus vaccinations.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.