Uber, Lyft Driver Shortages Make Getting Around Town Harder
Have you tried to order an Uber lately? Notice longer waits than usual? Or maybe you actually found a driver, but they never showed?
You’re not alone. Getting a ride home through rideshare services Uber and Lyft is getting harder and harder, thanks to more people leaving their homes but fewer drivers on the app.
But the issue isn’t a simple case of supply and demand.
The same goes for rental cars. Higher demand, lower availability — and issues plaguing the automobile industry.
It’s not exactly how Las Vegas wants to be welcoming back tourists.
David Newton is a commissioner for the Nevada Transportation Authority, which regulates the rideshare industry. He said before the pandemic started, about 39,000 people drove for transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, but when the pandemic hit, that number dropped to between 13,000 and 14,000 drivers and it has not come back up yet.
Newton said there are a couple of reasons why drivers have stopped going on the road. One reason is the fear of COVID-19; another is there just hasn't been enough riders to make it profitable.
“A lot of the rides from the airport to the hotels are fairly short and that’s not where the Uber drivers tend to make their money," he said. "They make their money on the longer runs.”
TNCs, or transportation network companies, say part of the reason drivers aren't returning is the lack of surge pricing. Newton explained that current regulations don't allow companies to bump up pricing during a state of emergency.
“This section of this was put in place to deal with things like the October 1 shooting or other incidents where we wanted to protect the traveling public from being charged an excess amount, based on the fact that there was a bunch of people trying to get out of an area as quickly as they could,” he said.
Of course, no one expected the state to be in a state of emergency for more than a year.
Now, the Nevada Transportation Authority is considering changing that regulation to lift the stay on surge pricing seven days after an emergency is declared by the governor.
Another reason there is a shortage of drivers may be unemployment benefits, Newton said.
“There’s been a fair amount of concern whether or not the drivers are earning enough out of unemployment currently that it offsets their desire to put themselves out on the road again,” he said.
With a shortage of drivers for Uber and Lyft, you would think that cab companies would be eager to pick up the slack.
JD Decker, the interim administrator for the Nevada Taxicab Authority, said cab companies would like to fill the demand, but they're having the same trouble finding drivers as TNCs.
“I’m not sure that the taxi industry is poised to take advantage of filling that need for increased ridership because they’re suffering the same impacts from COVID and the economic impacts that we’ve all experienced,” he said.
Decker said just like TNCs drivers, cab drivers are not coming back for a mix of reasons.
“There are still people who are fearful of being out amongst the public and going back to work, and then there are some incentive issues with drivers and people in other industries going back to work,” he said.
He said some permitted drivers are coming back part-time so that they can keep their unemployment benefits, and now, cab companies are alerting the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation to the practice.
Another troubling trend is the practice of cash rides, where people not employed by Uber or Lyft or a cab company offer to drive people around for cash.
Decker said the demand for drivers has become so large that these illegal drivers have started to pull up to resorts and other places where crowds have gathered and just shout, "Who wants a ride?"
The Taxicab Authority estimates seven out of 10 rides are now cash rides, making it a market force.
In addition to the practice being illegal, Decker said it can be dangerous to the public. The drivers are not working for TNCs or cab companies often because they don't qualify, or they're doing something else illegal like selling illegal drugs.
With that said, Decker believes the practice will decrease as more legal drivers return to the marketplace.
The taxi industry is already seeing an improvement in ridership.
“The ridership has been at about 20 percent of normal over the past year,” Decker said, but that has doubled in just the past few months.
“We’re not back at pre-pandemic levels, but we’re significantly increased from where we were just even a few months ago,” he said.
Uber and Lyft didn't respond to Nevada Public Radio's requests to participate in the segment.
David Newton, commissioner, Nevada Transportation Authority; JD Decker, interim administrator, Nevada Taxicab Authority