There’s no question that Uber Lyft and other rideshare drivers have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. But just how much has COVID-19 affected the lives of rideshare drivers
In this report, we’re going to look at how much drivers across the country have been earning per hour amid the COVID-19 crisis.
What’s at stake for Uber and Lyft drivers?
The shock of this situation is quite a lot for drivers to absorb.
There’s a huge amount of fallout that shows no sign of dissipating. With people being forced by the government to stay at home, the rush of business for the average driver has dwindled to a drip … drip … drip.
To find out just how much drivers are suffering in this crisis, Gridwise surveyed a large sample of them and came up with some interesting information we all can learn from.
Let’s start by looking at what rideshare means to the average driver. Some do it full time, while others use it as supplemental income. In the majority of cases, drivers’ answers show that rideshare driving is a very important source of income for them.
That’s clearly indicated on this graph, which shows that 76.8% of the drivers surveyed rely on rideshare or delivery for at least 25% of their income.
Because driving is such an important source of income for most drivers, more than 82% of them stated they wouldn’t be able to pay their household bills without their rideshare income. Whether this would result from a decline in business, being sick with COVID-19, or placed in quarantine due to exposure, taking unpaid leave from rideshare would cause severe hardship.
Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates, and other rideshare and delivery services have offered some compensation for drivers who are affected directly by the virus; i.e., infected or exposed. The compensation is quite limited, however. Of the drivers surveyed, nearly 60% believe the companies need to do more to compensate those who are quarantined and/or get sick, as you can see on this graph.
Just how much income have rideshare drivers lost?
The answer is, a lot. While our information shows there are slight upticks in driver income over the last few weeks, business is not even close to normal.
As we rang in the new year, the national average earnings started at $17.31 per hour, and then dipped down to $15.62 by the end of the first week in January. This is the usual dip that we’re used to seeing … the post-holiday blah period we all know so well.
By the end of January the per-hour rate rose slightly, and then dipped again around Groundhog Day and just after the Super Bowl parties came to an end. By the beginning of March hourly rates had started to climb, reaching $19.36! And then …
The unthinkable happened. The prevalence of COVID-19 began to soar, a pandemic was declared, stay-at-home orders were kicking in all over the country, and earnings plummeted. The average hourly wage slid all the way down to $12.35 by mid-March—more than a 36% drop.
Even St. Patrick’s Day couldn’t push earnings back up like usual because … well, nothing was like usual. Parades were canceled, bars were closed, and drivers were left to cruise the streets wondering where all their customers had gone. As for March Madness … Fuggedaboutit.
As tough as things still are economically, though, we’re starting to see a limited degree of an upswing in hourly rates. While earnings are nowhere near what they were before, they are ever so slowly crawling out of the depths of despair. The latest figures reflect a drop of 24% from the highest level.
That may not exactly sound like good news, but it shows that there’s been slight improvement in drivers’ hourly rates from the initial drop—a “bounce back” of 33% that is likely mostly a result of there just being fewer drivers on the road.
Before getting into how and why this slight upturn might be taking place, let’s look at how hourly rates have changed on a regional basis.
Most of the cities from which we collected data followed the pattern of the national trend: Hourly wages peaked at the beginning of March, and then took a steep dive when the stay-at-home orders went into effect. After a week or two of abysmally low rates, income began to creep up again—but only a little.
This is still a volatile situation. There is no way we can say, or even imply, that business is back to full capacity because it isn’t. And some cities and metro areas are recovering much more slowly than others. Still … we see some hope on the horizon.
On the following pages, you’ll find data for a number of metro areas throughout the U.S.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: New York City
New York rideshare drivers generally enjoy the highest earnings per mile in the U.S., but wages began to plummet starting the week of March 9th, when COVID-19 began spreading rapidly throughout the city. The graph shows that earnings dipped as low as $16.01, which is a massive 46% drop from the peak of $29.79.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Los Angeles
After COVID-19 took hold of Los Angeles, and the city began to lock down, driver earnings dropped to an unprecedented $11.74—a 36.4% decline from the peak of $18.48. On the graph you can see a small bounce back to $13.14 per hour, which is likely a result of fewer drivers on the road.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Pittsburgh
Driver earnings have been slightly less affected by COVID-19 in Pittsburgh. Although there was a major decrease in hourly wages during the week of March 16th, there was also a significant rise in the weeks after.
This could be because Pittsburgh leans residential and blue-collar worker, as opposed to being a touristy city with mostly white-collar workers.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Dallas
Dallas actually peaked in late February and saw a 46% decline to $10.63 during the week of March 16th. This is one of the biggest drops we’ve seen in any city.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Phoenix
Phoenix drivers saw a decrease in hourly earnings of 44% off the peak, though earnings did see a slight increase during the week of March 30th.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Washington, D.C.
D.C. drivers saw their earnings decrease by 37% off the late February peak, but earnings have rebounded since then to $14.78; an improvement, but still significantly less than what drivers are accustomed to.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Boston
Boston drivers saw a whopping 50% decrease in earnings from a late February peak. The city also saw a bounce back, which increased earnings to $17.63 per hour. This is likely due to drivers getting off the road more and switching to delivery.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Chicago
Chicago drivers saw a 36% decrease in earnings per hour with a slight recovery the week of March 30th. It appears that the city wasn’t hit as hard as some others by COVID-19, likely due to its many suburban and rural neighborhoods.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Baltimore
Baltimore drivers saw a 29% decrease in earnings per hour with a modest recovery to $18.09 per hour.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Atlanta
Atlanta drivers are experiencing a significant decline in earnings of 42%. We would expect Atlanta to be amongst the hardest hit cities because many drivers in Atlanta depend on the airport for a significant amount of their rides.
We did see earnings bump up about 10% the week of March 30th from the low point.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Miami
Miami driver earnings have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. Drivers are experiencing a decline of 61% off peak earnings during early February. Given Miami’s reliance on tourism for their economy, this is to be expected.
We’re hoping the upcoming months bring tourists back to Miami and driver earnings start to soar.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Austin
Austin drivers were initially hammered by a 46% decline in earnings, but the situation has started to improve with an earnings resurgence to $16.68. That’s still not what drivers would like to see, but it represents a glimmer of hope.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Detroit
Detroit has been one of the hardest-hit cities by COVID-19, and drivers have certainly felt that with erratic wage variations. Some weeks have seen Detroit drivers with earnings as low as 34% off their peak, but earnings in recent weeks have started bouncing back.
Because Detroit is a more residential and spread-out city, we’re likely seeing drivers benefit from people in suburbs and residential areas wanting to move around without using public transportation.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: New Jersey (statewide)
New Jersey drivers have not suffered from the extreme wage decreases found in most other markets. Although drivers experienced a 23% decline in earnings off the peak, earnings have already risen back to $20.06.
New Jersey is a market with lots of residential areas and blue collar neighborhoods where essential workers need to find ways to work without risking exposure to COVID-19, which likely drives them to use rideshare services.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Houston
Houston saw a 41% decrease in per-hour driver earnings from its 2020 peak of $17.45 per hour. Earnings have rebounded to $12.25 per hour, but are still nowhere near what drivers expect.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Philadelphia
Philly drivers initially experienced a 36% decrease in earnings, but then saw a strong bounce back of 58%.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: San Francisco Bay Area
The Bay area has seen a decline of 39% since earnings peaked in late February, which is unsurprising since San Francisco has some of the country’s strictest stay-at-home orders. Earnings have bounced back slightly, but not by much.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: San Jose
San Jose drivers saw a surprising 53% drop off peak earnings, but also experienced a comeback. This is likely due to San Jose being a more spread out, residential city, so when people go anywhere they likely rely on rideshare rather than public transportation.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Seattle
Seattle is a bit different from other cities since earnings peaked in late January, which means it was one of the first cities to really feel the impact of COVID-19. Earnings have steadily declined to $14.40 per hour, which is 44% less than peak earnings.
The past few weeks, however, have shown a slight increase in earnings.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: San Diego
San Diego drivers saw a 43% decrease in per-hour earnings, with a low of $11.23 in early March. In the weeks that followed, there was a slight bounce back to $14.54.
San Diego is a market that we’d expect to be hit relatively hard by COVID-19 because of its reliance on tourism.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: San Antonio
San Antonio earnings per hour dropped 34% from their early February peak, and are still considerably lower than the $17.43 per hour that drivers in the city expect.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Columbus
Columbus drivers suffered from a jarring 53% decrease in per-hour earnings, with an abysmal low of just $9.02. Since then there has been a slight rebound in earnings ($15.96 per hour), which is likely due to fewer drivers being on the road.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Indianapolis
Drivers in Indianapolis have experienced less earnings volatility than other markets. Hourly earnings declined to $13.62, which was a 16% decrease from the city’s peak in late February.
Indianapolis is another city that’s more residential and spread out, which would explain why earnings haven’t been as volatile.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Denver
Denver drivers saw a massive decrease of more than 52% off peak hourly earnings to $11.70 per hour. Even though wages have rebounded since this drastic decline, drivers are still making considerably less than they are accustomed to.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Jacksonville
Drivers in Jacksonville saw an hourly earnings decrease of 36%, with a modest increase the week of March 30th.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Charlotte
Driver earnings in Charlotte have been quite volatile. The initial per-hour decrease in earnings from $17.73 to $12.36 was followed by a jump to $14.42 per hour. We again saw a decrease in overall hourly earnings.
As of the week of March 30th, driver earnings were down 38% from their peak.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Las Vegas
Drivers in Vegas are getting hit hard because of their heavy dependence on tourism. Earnings per hour decreased 59% initially, but then bounced back slightly to $10.72 per hour.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Oklahoma City
OKC drivers are experiencing earnings as much as 33% lower than the peak.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Nashville
Drivers in Nashville are experiencing earnings reductions of up to 37% off their peak.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Kansas City
Kansas City drivers were hit with a 51% decrease in hourly rates the week of March 16th. Earnings have rebounded slightly, but remain far lower than the $19.62 per hour that drivers expect.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: New Orleans
In New Orleans, drivers’ earnings fell 46% off their mid-February peak to $12.01 per hour.
Driver Earnings Per Hour Amid COVID-19: Tampa
In Tampa, per-hour driver earnings fell 29% off the late February peak to $11.64 per hour.
Why would driver earnings be increasing?
It’s easy to see why hourly rates plummeted at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, and especially when the initial stay-at-home orders were issued. But why are hourly rates slowly improving now? Well … maybe it’s because rideshare drivers are extremely resourceful.
Some are changing their strategies, for instance. They might be hanging out more in the suburbs, driving people to pick up their takeout food, or helping caretakers, grocery and restaurant employees, and other essential workers get to work and back home. There are also plenty of riders who need drivers to help them with their sacks of toilet paper and other supplies they might want to stock up on … or hoard.
Rideshare drivers are also being more economical about their choice of when to go out. Late night warriors, for example, who are accustomed to servicing bars that are now closed down, might adjust their hours to serve people who are trying to get around earlier in the evening. They may even recognize some of their regulars when they’re asked to take them on a drive-by run to the beer distributor.
There are also just fewer drivers on the road right now and many are focusing on delivery. So even though we have less demand, we also have less supply, which is driving earnings per hour in an upward direction.
One thing’s for sure … there is still not an abundance of riders sending pings to rideshare drivers, and it will be some time before demand comes back to where it was. With luck, rideshare’s popularity will rebound, especially as people get re-used to leaving their homes and stepping back into society. Commuters, for instance, may not want to jump on a bus or subway right away, perhaps considering rideshare a safer option for their travels. We’ll have to wait and see.
Still, it’s heartening to see that the hourly rate for rideshare drivers may have hit its lowest point and, as slow as the progress might be, it seems to be trending upward again … maybe even beginning to bounce back.
We’ve said this before and it bears repeating: All drivers who feel there’s a possibility they’ve been infected should STAY HOME. This also goes for drivers who are afraid of being infected, or who would put other household members at risk if they were to become exposed.
With help available from the rideshare companies and government, you stand a good chance of staying afloat financially. There’s no reason to put your health, or anyone else’s, at risk.
What are your options?
If you’re infected or exposed, the companies will offer some financial compensation. Read more about what Uber and Lyft have to offer their drivers here.
If you’re healthy and cleared to be an essential worker (which most drivers are, by the way), there are a few things you can do.
- You can jump in with a delivery service. In our survey, 50% of drivers said they have switched from rideshare to delivery. There’s an uptick in this side of the business, to be sure, but the pay is not the same as rideshare. Be prepared to work hard, and do a lot more for the money you do earn.
Just for starters, delivery takes more time than you might think. Some services require you to place orders on behalf of the customer, and even if they don’t, there can be long waiting times for the food when you arrive for pickup. You’d have to be the beneficiary of plentiful good luck, AND be a real go-getter to earn anywhere near the money you make on a good day rideshare driving. To read more about delivering in the COVID-19 world, take a look at this article.
- You can collect unemployment from your state, along with a $600 weekly subsidy that’s being offered by the federal government. The newly enacted CARES law extends eligibility for unemployment compensation to independent contractors. If you find yourself in a position of needing financial assistance, you should definitely apply through your individual state. You can find more details about obtaining unemployment in this article.
As you can see, even though your income has definitely taken a hit, there are some options available to help you keep food on the table. At this point it might be hard for you to decide what to do because the whole thing is a bit overwhelming. We want to help you make some choices about your situation, so we collected information from around the country that shows just how hard the business has been hit, and how slow the recovery has been so far.
There is hope
Most people agree that the COVID-19 pandemic, and the havoc it has wreaked on our society, is one of the most difficult situations they’ve lived through so far—but the good news is, it will not last forever. When this crisis finally ends, it’s very possible that rideshare will be more popular than ever.
What can you do in the meantime, assuming you’re healthy, to make sure you stay afloat? We’ll sum it up …
- Decide if you really want to, or can still drive. If you do, be prepared to make less money than you did before.
- Investigate and exercise your options for unemployment compensation.
- Stay safe, and stay healthy, so you can get out there and drive when business starts to pick up for real—and trust us, it will.
And … stay close to Gridwise. If you haven’t already done so, download the app now. We’ll continue to monitor the market and the temperature of the rideshare and delivery driver population. That way we can pass along tips and advice on how to survive the upheaval that’s been brought upon us by COVID-19.