A D.C. taxi driver of 28 years who goes by Mr. Paul reports that the government shutdown has cut his daily pay by about 75 percent. “It’s hard to believe that some days I come home with $26,” he says. “Before the shutdown, I would be striving to make $80 to $100 every day I work.”
His rent of $1500 off Fort Lincoln Drive NE is due on the 5th of each month. He shares a two bedroom unit. He says that if he’s late on his rent, a late payment fee is applied. “The only way I paid my rent this month is because I’m borrowing. I’m very lucky that I could call my son this month and borrow.”
As he drove a City Paper reporter down 16th Street NW on Tuesday, he explained his days. “This morning, I came out at 4 a.m., and you are my second customer.” It was 8:15 a.m. “All of us are suffering, not only myself. I go down 14th Street, and no one has a passenger.”
He says that Union Station is no better. “Because there are no tourists coming in, cab drivers wait one hour, two hours, before they pick up somebody.” On Sunday night at Union Station at 8 p.m., several cabs that had been waiting to circle through the station’s taxi lane drove away without passengers. No one waited in line for a cab.
Mr. Paul says that one of the worst aspects of the shutdown is that it creates an atmosphere of uncertainty. But he doesn’t believe that this will end any time soon. “It might stay for a long time because it’s a matter of ego,” he says. “The shutdown is biting.”
Drivers who work for ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft are feeling the same sharp deduction in pay. In 2017, WAMU reported there were 40,000 “active” Uber drivers in the D.C. area. A spokesperson for D.C.’s Department of For-Hire Vehicles reports that it currently has 6,524 active taxi drivers in the District.
Tameca Herbert left a job at the U.S. Postal Service to become a full-time Lyft driver. She says she was making about $280 a day delivering mail. When she starting picking up riders as a side hustle, she learned she could make $300 to $400 a day. “All I do is sit in this car, make my money, and go home,” she says. “I don’t have supervisors getting on my nerves.”
But the shutdown has ravaged Herbert’s income. “There hasn’t been any money out here for two weeks,” she says. “I went from 25 to 35 rides per day to about 12. It’s terrible. Most of our riders are government workers. We get the government rush in the morning and at rush hour, but it’s been really dead.”
Herbert drives an SUV with several rows of seating, making it possible for her to accept XL rides. This usually positions her to maximize her earnings. But even that is not helping. “I’ve been riding around for 15 to 20 minutes before I can get a ride,” she says. “Normally it’s ongoing … to take a break and eat, you don’t even need to shut [the app] off anymore.”
Now Herbert is only earning about $100 per day instead of her usual self-imposed quota of $300. On Jan. 1, she made $118, and on Jan. 2 she made $98. And she’s driving longer. “I usually work from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m., but now I’m out here until eight or nine at night. This is my second week doing that. I usually don’t work when it’s dark. It’s just not a safe job.”
Like Herbert, a Lyft driver named Cong has noticed how much more difficult it’s been to find passengers. “We don’t usually have to try to get rides,” he says. “They just pop up.” Now he’s using the Lyft app to see where other drivers are circling so he can go to an area with less competition. He noticed a change in ridership right before the end of the year. “There’s no traffic, so that’s nice,” he continues. “But people aren’t going to work.” Cong says he typically earns $25 to $30 an hour, but since the shutdown started, his hourly rate has sunk to $15 to $20 an hour.
Drivers are trying various methods to hit their normal numbers despite the shutdown. Sometimes when it’s slow, Lyft and Uber drivers head to the airport where they can get a guaranteed fare. A Lyft driver named Kenneth tried that strategy once he noticed his daily earnings were slipping.
“It’s usually a good place to get rides, but everyone is going there,” he says. He gave it a try and found that there was an hour-long wait to pick up a passenger because the line of Lyft drivers with the same strategy was so long. Kenneth says he tries to net $80 a day. Since the shutdown started, he’s down to $200 a week.
Despite feeling stretched, some drivers are giving free rides to furloughed federal workers and contractors who aren’t currently receiving paychecks. A Lyft driver named Jerry says he’s driven 16 hours per day over the past three days to make up for the fact that fewer passengers are out and about requiring rides. He’s given out four free rides so far. Two passengers requested a free ride, the other two he offered out of generosity.