Why it might be taking longer to get an Uber or Lyft now

Car with Uber and Lyft stickers

Have you used a rideshare service recently and noticed that it took longer than usual for your car to arrive? You’re not imagining it. There’s currently a shortage of drivers for Lyft and Uber, due in part to the drop in demand during the pandemic and its associated problems.

“There was about a 16-minute delay from when I got it and when he actually picked me up,” a rideshare customer who ordered a ride from Boston’s Fenway Park in April told NBC10 Boston.

The problem is being experienced across the country. In addition to increased wait times, customers have also seen an uptick in prices.

“It got to be really expensive,” Chicago resident Sean Somers told NBC 5 Chicago of utilizing a rideshare service. “Sometimes it’s really hard to get a car. It can be an 11-minute wait.”

lyft photo

Increased Demand And A Shortage of Drivers

So what’s behind the changes? While demand fell over the past year as people’s movements were severely restricted due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, many drivers turned to other sources of income. Now that businesses are reopening and events are resuming, customer demand is once again rising, but the companies are struggling with a lack of drivers.

“In 2020, many drivers stopped driving because they couldn’t count on getting enough trips to make it worth their time,” Dennis Cinelli, Uber vice president of mobility in the U.S. and Canada, wrote in a press release. “In 2021, there are more riders requesting trips that there are drivers available to give them — making it a great time to be a driver.”

The tides are definitely turning. Lyft’s sales for the week ended March 29, 2021 were 80% higher than in the first week of the year, and Uber’s were up 76% during the same period.

“Demand is rising rapidly with every vaccination,” Lyft President John Zimmer told Bloomberg Businessweek. “It’s almost like the reverse of the pandemic.”

uber photo
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Sweetening The Deal For Drivers Has Mixed Success

To keep up with the increase in demand, the companies are now offering extra incentives to attract new drivers. Uber will distribute a $250 million “stimulus,” consisting of temporary incentives for both new and returning drivers, such as $1100 for completing 115 trips in Austin.

Drivers for Uber can expect to earn high median hourly wages in several major markets, such as $37.44 per hour in New York City, $30.49 per hour in Chicago and $26.85 per hour in Los Angeles.

Lyft is offering bonuses of up to $800 for referring former drivers back to the app.

However, not all would-be drivers are swayed by the offers.

“I don’t trust them,” a driver in Oakland, California, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “They entice us with bonuses, and they always find a way to weasel out and not pay us.”

With weekly unemployment benefits of $300 slated to last until September 6, that may also contribute to driver hesitancy. Other drivers have also turned to work that proved more lucrative during the pandemic, including food delivery.

uber pool photo

Regional Restrictions Are Also Causing Problems

In some markets, pandemic-related restrictions are further disincentivizing drivers. For example, in Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker has declared a state of emergency that prevents Uber and Lyft from engaging in surge pricing, which acts as an economic motive for drivers to work during busy times.

“Sure pricing is very, very important. It is what gives drivers an extra bonus,” Felipe Martinez, a member of the Boston Independent Drivers Guild, told NBC10 Boston. “When the drivers are not being paid fairly and equitably, they don’t want to go out and sacrifice their lives for pennies on the dollar.”

lyft surge pricing photo

What Can Customers Do?

If you’re a customer and trying to score a ride a bit faster, there are some tips and tricks you can try. By using Google Maps (under “Directions”) rather than opening up a rideshare app on your phone, you can see a price comparison as well as an estimated wait time for your ride for both Uber and Lyft, allowing you to choose the faster and/or cheaper option.

It’s also beneficial to be savvy when choosing your pickup location. If you’re at a crowded spot like a concert or sporting event, try to choose a spot a bit away from the bulk of the crowd, which will eliminate some traffic and hassle for your driver, potentially cutting down on the time it will take for them to get to you.

If you’re really in a hurry, you can also fork over more cash for a faster pickup. With Lyft’s Priority Pickup, you can get a faster pickup at a slightly higher price compared to the app’s Standard, Shared, Shared Saver or Wait & Save options.

If, on the other hand, a lower price is what you’re after, the other modes will offer you a cheaper ride.

Traveling during off-peak times will also help you snag both a quicker and less expensive ride, especially if surge pricing is allowed where you live. If you’re not on a strict timetable and can afford to slightly adjust when you arrive at your destination, this can be a great way to get a speedier and cheaper ride.

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About the Author
Kate Streit
Kate Streit lives in Chicago. She enjoys stand-up comedy, mystery novels, memoirs, summer and pumpkin spice anything. Visit Scripps News to see more of Kate's work.

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