If you haven’t requested a ride since before the pandemic, you’ll notice much higher prices for the same rides. Based on data collected by analytics firm Rakuten, U.S. ride-hailing fares were 50 percent higher in July 2021 than they were in Jan. 2020, before COVID restrictions went into effect.
A Wall Street Journal analysis shows that ride prices from the beginning of 2021 have been inching up each month, even as more people are vaccinated. A similar report on higher-than-usual fares from earlier in the year (passenger costs were up 40 percent in April) mostly blamed the issue on a driver shortage.
But now, a few months later, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said during his company’s July earnings call that there was a 30 percent increase of drivers on Uber in July compared to June. In a separate earnings call, Lyft execs said the San Francisco-based company saw the same trend, with more drivers in July compared to June. It’s not enough.
Demand for rides keeps outpacing the supply of drivers available to give rides. Fares are still going up because drivers are still hesitant to return to ride-sharing. Things may be improving month over month, but it’s not back to pre-pandemic levels, so passengers will keep paying more as Uber and Lyft offer the highest rates users have ever seen.
Drivers aren’t just sitting at home waiting for the pandemic to end. Many have jumped ship to food delivery, especially on the Uber platform with Uber Eats. Food delivery continues to do well even as more people start to leave the house to restaurants and bars. After months of restrictions, people got accustomed to food being brought right to their door.
Khosrowshahi said the majority of former Uber drivers haven’t come back to drive people because of “safety concerns” as the contagious virus spreads. But with a burger and fries in the backseat instead of a breathing, living customer it feels less risky.
The Uber CEO also noted that background checks are faster and simpler for Eats drivers, so it’s easier to get new couriers on the platform compared to traditional drivers.
After long lull during the first part of the pandemic: riders are coming back. During Wednesday’s call, Khosrowshahi said many American cities are back to “normal” ride request levels with pre-pandemic passenger numbers, like in Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix. But without enough drivers, prices and wait times will continue to climb.
Khosrowshahi did note that as vaccination rates go up, ex-Uber drivers are coming back to work more and more. Uber will not be requiring its drivers to be vaccinated, but drivers and passengers have to continue to mask up.