As restaurants and non-essential retail start gearing up for the anticipated Phase 1 reopening of Virginia on Friday, gig workers continue to provide transportation to people or food delivery to make ends meet.
Uber and Lyft, two major ridesharing companies, laid off hundreds of workers during the pandemic. For those transport drivers and delivery drivers working locally, how are these multi-billion dollar companies protecting them from contracting or spreading the virus as well?
“Uber is in close communication with public health authorities and has been going off of the guidance from them,” Carly DeBeikes, safety communications for Uber, wrote in an email to WYDaily.
She emailed more background to highlight Uber’s overall approach to dealing with the coronavirus.
Since March 17, Uber has suspended ride sharing or pool rides where more than one rider can carpool to the same destination and the brand is now asking riders to stay home through marketing such as the television advertisement below:
Because of lower amount of trips and the company’s current hiring freeze, Uber on May 6 reduced customer support and recruitment teams by 3,700 full-time employees, according to Uber’s First Quarter Results 2020 document for their investors.
In terms of working with local health agencies, other background information DeBeikes shared from Uber included the company creating a 24/7 Law Enforcement Response Team which can temporarily suspend user and rider accounts who have been exposed or tested positive for the coronavirus, using recommendations from public health authorities.
The team also consults with an epidemiologist and works with the authorities providing additional information about riders and drivers who came into contact with each other using Uber.
“Uber may disclose user information to PHAs if Uber has a good-faith belief that an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requires disclosure without delay of information relating to the emergency,” according to the document. “It is Uber’s position that outbreaks of infectious disease where public health officials have declared a public health emergency under applicable law qualify as emergencies. Uber may also voluntarily share data with public health authorities subject to a certification by a public health authority or official that the request is related to a public health emergency, even where no state of emergency has been officially declared.”
Drivers are encouraged to wear personal protective equipment in the form of masks but it is not required and Uber is providing limited supplies at this time, according to the background information provided by DeBeikes.
Uber previously announced the company would buy face masks, hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes for their drivers and delivery people, but noted supplies were limited and the hardest hit cities, such as New York City, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles would receive priority shipments.
The company also said it would partner with manufacturers but it’s unclear if Uber is working with any local manufacturers at this time. WYDaily asked DeBeikes but she referred to the background information regarding the company’s current procedures instead.
“We’re reminding everyone who uses Uber to follow advice from public health authorities,” according to the Health and Safety Tips section of Uber’s website. “If you’re sick, stay home and away from others. Wash your hands frequently, and cover your cough or sneeze. For more information, visit the World Health Organization website.”
While drivers have some flexibility in terms of who they can pick up, they cannot discriminate against anyone based on their race or natural origin, the company added.
People who order food delivery through Uber Eats can select the “leave-at-door” option upon checkout but it’s not a mandatory feature during the coronavirus.
For those who are laid off, Uber has a two-week payment policy for drivers or delivery people who test positive for the coronavirus. The payment is based on the driver’s previous earnings and the average ridership in the local area. It’s unclear what the maximum payment is for a driver on the Peninsula or in Hampton Roads.
It remains unclear how many drivers and delivery people have been laid off in Newport News, Hampton, Williamsburg, York County and James City County or how many drivers, delivery people and user accounts have been suspended or how many restaurants have been temporarily removed from the app because of positive coronavirus cases.
DeBeikes did not respond to the questions.
With 1.9 million drivers and over 30 million riders taking part in Lyft in 2018, according to data from the SEC, the company has also had to change its procedures to protect workers’ and customers’ health.
Lyft has been recommending riders only use its services for essential travel, according to the company’s website. In addition, shared ride programs through the company are currently paused until further notice.
If a rider has to use Lyft services, the company asks that they wear a cloth face covering, sanitize their hands before entering a vehicle, sit in the back seat and ride with the windows open.
Drivers are also asked to wear cloth face coverings, ask the passenger to sit in the back seat and disinfect the surfaces of the vehicle frequently. The company is providing face masks and sanitizers outside of select Hubs, driver centers and express drive locations.
For information on locations in Virginia and items available, visit The Hub online.
If a Lyft driver or passenger is diagnosed with the coronavirus, they will not be able to use Lyft until they are medically cleared. The company is also providing funds to qualifying drivers diagnosed with the virus or who have been put under quarantine. These funds are based on the driver’s previous activity with the company.
The company has also stopped bringing on new drivers to help protect earning opportunities for drivers already employed with the business and reduced its minimum ride requirements.
Lyft has also created a new task force that uses drivers to deliver critical supplies and meals to the community and giving rides to guests in need of medical services. While the task force is only available in 15 cities, the company is looking to expand more partnerships.
Lyft did not respond immediately for further comment.
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