El Pasoan Miriam Carmona used to drive full time for both Uber and Lyft until COVID-19 cases began to emerge in the borderland. She says she had to quit because the disease can put her and her family’s life at risk.
“Not only do I have asthma, but my mother has asthma as well, so getting COVID-19 would really affect us if we were to contract it. I got pneumonia back in 2008, and I know how ugly it feels to not be able to breathe,” Carmona said. “And I used to drive because it was difficult for me to get another job.”
Unlike workers employed by restaurants, hotels and retail establishments, gig workers like Uber and Lyft drivers typically have not been able to collect unemployment benefits or take paid sick leave, The New York Times reports. The coronavirus stimulus bill expanded unemployment benefits to gig workers and others who are self-employed, but there have been delays in disbursing aid.
So Uber drivers like Carmona and other ride-share workers have faced a tough choice: stop driving to stay home and lose the income or risk exposure sharing a car with strangers.
Ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft have been feeling the piercing sting of the coronavirus pandemic that’s been wreaking havoc on the gig economy here in El Paso and everywhere else.
As of Thursday, Uber’s stock price was down more than 45% from its all-time high in June 2019. Lyft’s is down more than 71% from its all-time high in March 2019.
Rodney Linkous is a retired substitute teacher and he used to be a ride-share driver, but he had to stop because he’s part of a demographic that’s at high risk.
“I’m 72 and I can’t drive right now because I’m in the target area for the virus, but thankfully I’m retired so I have money coming in.”
While some drivers have gotten off the streets, others continue to drive even though El Paso’s number of coronavirus cases continues to grow.
Carlos Guerra is a former marine, a management professional and runs a Facebook page for ride-share drivers in the El Paso area with more than 600 members. He said that drivers who have remained on the job have been experiencing a sharp decline in requests.
“In most cases, they are averaging five or less when we are used to 12 or more a day. Only about 10% of the normal ride-share workforce is working,” Guerra said. “It’s taking them 12 hours plus to earn right at $65. These are the ones that really depend on this income.”
For Nathan Duran, his only source of income at the moment is driving for Uber and Lyft.
“What’s helped is that many drivers are not wanting to work during this pandemic, so I’m able to still make some cash,” Duran said. “But I’m a healthy person, and I personally don’t find it as serious as many people think it is. I fear getting the flu over coronavirus.”
Some drivers have turned to Uber Eats to maintain a stream of income as more people order food from home.
“Uber Eats has saved many drivers,” Guerra said.
Uber sent an email to its drivers on March 10 highlighting actions the company is taking “to keep our communities safe.”
According to the email, the tech company is partnering with manufacturers to provide drivers in cities hardest hit by the pandemic with access to cleaning supplies for their cars. Uber is also working with public health authorities to “temporarily suspend the accounts of riders or drivers confirmed to have contracted or been exposed to COVID-19.”
The company will provide drivers or delivery persons who’ve had their accounts suspended financial assistance for up to 14 days, according to the email.
“Uber and Lyft have done a good job at keeping us protected,” said Jamell Banner, a full-time driver for both companies. “They’ve even advised the riders to sit in the back of the vehicle to give more distance.”
Uber and Lyft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Bryan Mena, who is pursuing a degree in political science from UTEP, is an intern at El Paso Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.