What It’s Like to Drive for Uber and Lyft During a Pandemic

For many drivers, driving for Uber and Lyft right now simply isn’t worth it. Drivers are primarily worried about getting sick, but some also estimate earnings just aren’t worth it taking the few passengers still using Uber and Lyft around. Senior RSG contributor Paula Gibbins interviewed four drivers who are still driving for Uber and Lyft right now, why they’re driving, and what they’re seeing out there.

We’ve talked a lot recently about what you can do if you’re not driving or not wanting to drive rideshare right now, including food delivery or other gig jobs.

However, what about the drivers who are still out there driving? We’ll cover why they are driving, how/if their markets have changed and a few other tidbits about driving for Uber and Lyft at the moment. Here are four real drivers doing what they do.

Interviews have been condensed or edited for clarity.

Quick links:

Barry, age 67, drives in Burlington, VT

Why are you driving right now?

“Based on recent feedback from most riders, they’ve really appreciated that I’m still offering rides, which makes me feel good.

There are definitely far fewer drivers than usual out there, but demand is down as well. For me personally, it’s more about getting people from point “A” to point “B” than it is about the money.

I’ve also been doing Uber Eats over the last 5-6 weeks. The pay is crummy if there’s no tips, but again I feel like I’m providing a needed service.”

How has rideshare driving changed?

“Much less traffic! That’s been a blessing, as in the past I’ve avoided rush hour and congested areas.

Obviously most passengers have been wearing masks, which I sometimes do when I’ve got passengers. Between rides I wipe key spots down, prohibit riders from sitting in the front (unless there’s four of them), and turn up the air vents. I also keep handy in my car a small bottle of hand sanitizer.”

How have Uber or Lyft helped?

“I’ve not received protective equipment from either Uber or Lyft. There’s an occasional email with tips and suggestions but that’s been about it. There’s no hub in the Burlington, VT area.

Also, with my driver’s license set to expire in May I’ve had to contact both services regarding the DMV being closed.”

What are the passengers like?

“Definitely more friendly and appreciative that I’m still out there driving. Most riders are picking up prescriptions, heading to/from work, picking up their car being serviced, or heading to/from a grocery store.

Tips from riders have definitely increased of late, but not for Uber Eats. One guy whose face was completely covered up was heading to work at Zero Gravity, a local brewery. I mentioned to him that one of their IPA’s (Cone Head) was my favorite beer, so when I dropped him off he “tipped” me with a four pack of 16 ounce cans of Cone Head!”

What is driving like now compared to before the pandemic?

“It’s definitely scary out there… fortunately I live/drive in a fairly unpopulated area. And again as I previously mentioned, I’d say the biggest difference has been the lack of traffic, followed by the need to frequently sterilize your hands and wipe down the car’s interior.”

What do your earnings look like now?

“Initially with the onset of the pandemic my earnings decreased by about 75%… but after a few weeks when people headed out more, plus the increased demand for Uber Eats, they’ve returned to normal.”

Rich T., age 64, drives in south central PA

Why are you driving right now?

“I’m driving because I need the money. I’m ‘semi-retired’, and without Uber/Lyft income, I’d have to draw from my retirement account.

Plus, to be honest, I think that much of the reaction to this virus has been overreaching, and I don’t consider myself to be much at risk. I’m healthy, and even if I get sick, I won’t die. Finally, I don’t want to stay home all day, every day!”

How has rideshare driving changed?

“In my market, there is still meaningful demand, but since so many drivers have decided not to drive, there is little ‘competition’, so when I go live, I am constantly busy.

Usually, as soon as I start one trip, I’m getting a request for the next! Riders tell me that often when they go online to request a ride, both with Uber and Lyft, they see no cars available.

Most riders now wear masks — I wear mine when the rider wears theirs, otherwise, I don’t wear it. That being said, after every few trips, I spray the back seat and touch points with Lysol.

Conversation has been reduced, because it’s hard to talk through the masks, though when there is conversation, it’s about the virus, and I’d say it’s 3 to 1 who believe, like me, that the powers-that-be have overreacted, and people generally want to get back to normal.”

How have Uber or Lyft helped?

“Other than ‘we care’ and ‘tips for staying safe’ emails, Uber and Lyft have offered no additional assistance.”

What are the passengers like?

“As for the riders, very little gratitude is expressed, other than the usual ‘thanks, have a nice day’. Maybe one in five express thanks for me being out there when other drivers aren’t, and while I don’t need to hear it, it’s disappointing that the majority of riders still take me for granted.

The majority of my riders are going to or from work, though a large portion are Walmart or grocery store trips, then there are a few who simply seem to be going to, or coming from a friend’s home.

Transporting workers and Walmart/grocery store trips aren’t usually good for receiving tips, so to that point, and the general lack of gratitude means that tips are few and far between, including those for whom I help loading and unloading groceries.”

What do your earnings look like now?

“Prior to the shutdown, I was making about $400/week, driving 30-35 hours. The last 5-6 weeks I’ve been making over $600/week, driving the same number of hours, so my earnings have increased 50%.”

Celeste, age 64, drives in the Inland Empire Market in southern California

Why are you driving right now?

“I did initially stop driving for a week when the Coronavirus first exploded. I was unsure if it would be safe for me. I had been driving in the LA market the week before and I was concerned about the possibility that I could have been exposed to the virus.

But my reason for continuing to drive was a financial need. I do depend on the money I make driving for both Uber and Lyft. I knew that other drivers were having difficulties getting unemployment benefits and I didn’t think I would qualify for that anyway.

Once everyone was required to wear masks, I felt that would help to protect both myself and my riders. Also fortunately for me I am very healthy and have no health concerns that would make me vulnerable if I contracted the virus.”

How has rideshare driving changed?

“Driving has changed for me a bit. Prior to Covid-19 I drove about 4-5 days a week for about 5-6 hours a day. Now I drive for 3 days a week for about 7-8 hours/day. Since many drivers here are staying home or have switched to food delivery, I have not really noticed much difference in ride demand, in fact my wait time is less now… often I have back to back rides. I attribute that because there are less drivers in the area.

I have a cleaning/disinfecting routine I do every morning on my vehicle as well as ensuring I have enough hand sanitizer/wipes for myself and my riders, and my riders often ask to use the hand sanitizer and appreciate it.

I also make disposable masks made from paper towels that I have given to some riders who are not wearing one. I explain to them that they must wear one to be in my car and they always comply.

If there is conversation with the rider, it often is about the coronavirus, so I hear different opinions about it and the quarantine. I’m surprised at how ignorant many people are about it.”

How have Uber or Lyft helped?

“I have not received any help from either Uber or Lyft with regards to supplies like hand sanitizer or wipes. I think Uber sent a message that they would send supplies but that never happened.

Lyft did send 2 messages about how those items could be picked up from a hub location, but it was not close to me and it would be inconvenient to go there, so I just bought some myself.

The one good thing both platforms did was to remove the Pool and Shared rides, but since in my market we don’t have either, it didn’t affect me much unless I end up in another market.”

What is driving like now compared to before the pandemic?

“The major difference in rides is I don’t have many long rides or airport trips, which of course is desirable. I did have one 54 minute ride last week from my market into Los Angeles which is now rare.

Most of my rides are medical appointments, going to work, home from work, trips to and from the grocery store and rides to and from auto repair shops and dealerships. There still are the occasional rides where the rider is visiting friends or family. Some riders thank me for driving, but tips are less frequent though.

Since we are wearing masks, I notice there is less conversation.”

What do your earnings look like now?

Earnings are about the same.

driving for uber and lyft during pandemic
Celeste’s earnings from Uber

Richard S., age 65, drives in Baltimore, MD

Why are you driving right now?

“I’m the proudest of helping people in my car with fear and anxiety. I overcame those problems beginning from 2011-2014. I have had opportunities to help others in my car with their problems. It’s been the most beautiful time of my life right now, seeing people encouraged.”

How has rideshare driving changed?

“It’s been AMAZING. I was worried that my Uber/Lyft would be taken off the road in April. I got a part-time job at Walmart. I would supplement my income with Uber, UberEATS and Lyft.

I started with Walmart March 30. I fell in a water spill and hurt my right shoulder near the end of my shift April 1.

Even though I got hurt and got off at 10 pm, I went driving and got a request right away. Then, I got four trips bringing in $97 in 2-1/2 hours.

I finished with $103 in five trips. I worked the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th. On Saturday the 4th I got encouraged: I made $154. I cut the cord with Walmart and really got to work driving.”

What are the passengers like?

“I focused on times to go out- the lunch crowd from 12-2, the dinner crowd from 4-7 and the late night crowd from 9-1. I get a combination of food orders and riders.

Riders are going to or from work or to or from friends’ houses. I made a policy of calling ahead to confirm the pickup to people who were 12 or minutes away. I had only two cancellations on long pickups in six weeks.

The riders really appreciated it. Almost all of them warmed up to me when they got in my car.”

What is driving like now compared to before the pandemic?

“I have been working since I was 17. I used to be a $1 million a year Commercial Printing Salesman. I can tell you, these past six weeks have been more enjoyable than that! This really is the best time ever.

The difference for me was I had a game plan. I didn’t know if drivers would be taken off the streets. I went to work 20 hours a week at Walmart and supplemented that work with rideshare. I had to quit Walmart. I found the very best hours to work in this environment for driving and followed the plan.”

What do your earnings look like now?

“Wednesday, April 1 was the first night I went driving at 10pm. I got a ping as soon as I put the hose in my gas tank. I put back the hose, picked up a MedTech and took him to work 25 miles away. I got three more long trips and made $97.00 on four trips. I finished with $103 on five trips.  That began to tell me things were humming from 9 pm-2 am.

I have to tell you that these past six weeks of driving have been the BEST EVER! I haven’t made the most money ever, but the past 15 days I worked I made $2,273. I took a day off on the 20th.”

Driving for Uber and Lyft During the Pandemic

These were just several of the drivers who reached out to us about driving for Uber and Lyft during the pandemic, but they’re not alone. We heard from over 100 drivers about their experiences driving for Uber and Lyft, and for the most part, all of them decided to drive for a variety of reasons, including financial need and the desire to help.

Driving during a pandemic is still a very personal choice – we here at RSG can’t tell you one way or the other if you should drive passengers around right now. However, if you do decide to drive, let us know what it’s like out there for you!

Are you currently driving passengers for Uber and Lyft right now? Why or why not?

-Paula @ RSG