Drivers’ Challenge: How some drivers are finding rides in a COVID-19 world

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Disclaimer: Gridwise is in no way encouraging drivers to drive during this time. Gridwise is providing this, and other information to drivers that still need to drive for financial and other reasons.

If you’ve decided to keep driving despite the stay-at-home orders, we at Gridwise honor your choice and your right to make it. 

We equally honor and respect those of you who have chosen to stop driving, whatever your reasons may be. This choice is a personal one, and we hope you’ve been reading the many articles Gridwise has put together to help you make the choice that’s right for you.

Those who do continue to drive are obviously faced with an entirely different set of rules than usual. Rush hour drivers find there is no rush; airport mavens have noticed that the constant whine of jet engines has diminished to an occasional whimper. 

The evening and night time drivers, so used to ferrying streams of passengers to their favorite places of enjoyment, keep themselves busy counting hand-drawn signs that read “closed” or “open for takeout only.”

Some drivers have added delivery to their work repertoire, and the delivery business has seen about a 30% jump over the last month or so. Still, it’s hard to make as much delivering as you might have earned with rideshare. That’s one reason many drivers who are persistent, and in good health, are continuing to pick up passengers.

Although the companies urge drivers and riders to limit their travel to only what’s essential, many drivers feel they should have the option to choose. In a report from Fox 13 in Salt Lake City, driver Troy Harget put it this way:

“I feel that it’s a need for people to have this opportunity. Some people actually need the rideshare so I’m obviously here to facilitate.” 

So where are passengers going?

Gridwise took this query to the driver population, and our survey revealed some interesting findings. 

As you can see from the graph below, more than half the riders were going to or from work. The next most popular reason for rideshare was grocery shopping. Going to the airport or hospital, or visiting friends, were much less common.

It isn’t the driver’s job to judge why a person has summoned a ride, but it’s hard not to notice that, while business is way down from what it was before (as you can see in this article), some rides are more essential than others.

Where can you find riders?

The graph gives some hints; but let’s drill down a bit and use some experience and analysis to get more ideas.

Going to and from work

Wait … aren’t people supposed to work from home? Yes, and many are doing that. But there are scads of non-office personnel, known as essential workers, who are still showing up at their usual places of employment.

The definition of “essential” workers is determined by each individual state, and the main criterion is that the person’s job be essential to critical infrastructure. Here’s a list of federal recommendations for workers who are essential, with a few details included to give you an idea of just how many people may still need rides … from you!

  • Health Care and Public Health: Clinical researchers and providers, caregivers, nurses, hospital facilities personnel (from security guards to building managers and custodial crew), and workers who manage records and health plans.
  • Law Enforcement: Emergency management and hazmat responders, workers who maintain digital support systems, officers of the law, corrections officers, firefighters, and members of the military.
  • Public Work and Government: sanitation; facilities maintenance, including dams, roads, locks, parks, and bridges; and program administrators who cannot function under a work-at-home arrangement.
  • Food and Agriculture: Workers at grocery stores and pharmacies, restaurant carry-out fast food operations, food manufacturers, farm workers, veterinarians, the forestry and lumber industry, and equipment manufacturers.
  • Utilities: Those responsible for maintaining the electrical grid, petroleum facilities, and natural gas operations. (This category also covers those responsible for municipal water and sewage systems.)
  • Transportation and Logistics: Mass transit workers, taxi and other drivers (that’s YOU), logistics operators, postal and shipping workers, maritime transportation workers, airline and airport workers, manufacturers of goods involved in these activities, and those who repair and maintain all vehicles and facilities involved in moving people and things from one place to another.
  • Information Technology, Financial, and Communications: Workers who support these and other operations that are essential to the social and economic structure.

You can check your state’s list to find out exactly what kinds of workers are still out there, and learn more about their schedules. Armed with that information, you can find out where they work and what their hours are, and then be there to pick them up.

One thing you can count on for sure: There are still restaurant workers and managers going on and off their takeout shifts. You’ll find it easy to get rides wherever there are clusters of fast-food and chain restaurants. 

Check suburban neighborhoods for people who might be on their way to work in these and other essential fields. Think about your regular riders and see if you can find out if they’re still traveling to and from work. If so, make yourself open and available to them.

Grocery store runs

This may not be your favorite type of ride, but with business the way it is, the time-consuming, at times aggravating, drive to and from your rider’s local supplier will let you make at least a few bucks.

Grocery stores and other outlets are busy places these days. People who don’t, can’t, or have no desire to drive need you to get them there and back. You’re likely to notice more calls coming from places that supply food and dry goods. They come in at all hours, so it doesn’t hurt to know where they are in your territory, and drive by to see if you’re needed. 

You can also check residential neighborhoods where people may need a lift to the store. In cities, food deserts might be a good place to check out, because people will be eager to buy their food anywhere but the local (and inordinately expensive and unhealthy) convenience stores.

Before you start dragging bags around, though, ask the customers whether they mind if you touch the bags. With the current coronavirus scare, they may want to keep as many hands as possible away from their acquisitions.

Fearless and still flying

Sadly, that excited feeling you get driving up to collect a rider who’s airport-bound is rare these days—but you can still get it now and then. Hotels are not doing much business, so you’re more likely to find passengers with airport destinations at their homes or places of business.

If you hang at the airport to wait for arrivals, expect volume to be way down. Most airlines are experiencing a drop in business of anywhere from 50 to 90%. You can also probably expect a downswing in airport riders, so you’ll have to be shrewd about finding them. 

The smartest way to work your airport is to keep watching the Gridwise app. The passengers screen can be even more important than usual in times like this, when you really need to know when waves of passengers are coming in.

Also, people will still be working at the airports, particularly in the cargo areas. They’ll need you, so be there for them when they come and go from their shifts.

Heading to the hospital

For obvious reasons, you’ll have to be careful if you get requests to go to the hospital. You’re under no obligation to transport any person who is displaying COVID-19 symptoms. Remember, this is not just about your protection; think of the next person to get into your car, and then the next, and the next … not to mention relatives and friends you may encounter within social distancing range.

With that said, there will be healthcare workers, as well as people who need to visit the hospital for doctor’s appointments, minor injuries, or illnesses. You’ll be doing them a great service by taking them there.

Remember … if you’re asked to drive someone whose condition seems serious or life-threatening, call 911 and let the authorities handle it. You’re a rideshare driver, not an EMT.

If you do drive someone to the hospital, you may find passengers there. Healthcare providers, as well as outpatients with sprained ankles or broken fingers, may need you to take them home. 

Facilitating Visitation

Most stay-at-home orders allow people to gather in groups smaller than 10. That means the late-night distress calls between lovers or best buds might still be happening. They’re going to call you—it’s just the way it is.

Maybe because people don’t break old habits easily, this particular kind of ride seems to be more prevalent on weekend evenings. You’ll probably find them in places where people are unlikely to travel in their own cars or where people don’t necessarily have the family thing going on. Singles need love, and rides, too.

That other stuff

Talking to drivers, we’ve found some other interesting reasons people chose to leave their homes. While cruising the suburbs, a driver picked up a forty-something dad, who left his preteen son and the kid’s mom playing in the front yard while he took his return rideshare trip to … the beer distributor.

While this might not have been urgent, he had evidently over-imbibed, and was smart enough to let someone else do the driving. Then, the story he told offered more than enough explanation why he might have needed that beer run. As the owner of a restaurant with 100+ employees, closed down except for takeout and rapidly running out of revenue, he had a deep need to soothe his soul.

People have all kinds of reasons for needing rides from you. Some are unable to drive themselves because of physical or legal obstacles. Others might not have a car, and still others might know they’re too distraught (or impaired) to be behind the wheel.

In all these cases, as the rideshare driver, you’re doing a good deed. Still, you need to protect your health. 

New rules from the CDC offer wise recommendations and a few things to do before you go out to drive:

  • Check your temperature to make sure you don’t have a fever.
  • Monitor yourself for any other symptoms of COVID-19 such as a dry cough and body ache.
  • Wear a covering over your nose and face when you are within 6 feet of other people, including while driving with passengers in your car.

What other precautions can you take?

It’s good news for the rideshare driver community that people are dependent on you for getting to and from the various places they need to go. Yet in times like these, drivers are just as hard to find as riders. Many have decided it’s not worth the risk.

Many riders, when entering the car, will thank the driver for being available. Just as there is more time between pings for drivers, riders are waiting longer than usual for a car to arrive. Some riders will take precautions, using hand sanitizer, wipes, and/or a mask to protect themselves from possibly contracting the virus from the car or the driver.

Equally as many riders just open the door and plop right down into the seat like nothing unusual is going on. There will be times when, as a driver, you’ll need to protect yourself. What are some ways to do that?

  • The rideshare companies advise that you ask passengers to sit in the back seat. This helps you keep your distance, and protects both you and the passenger.
  • Wipe down your door handles, seat belts, and other surfaces in between trips.
  • Wear a mask, bandana, or other face covering while you have a passenger in the car with you.
  • Follow any other precautions you can think of, and remember—when you take such precautions, along with protecting yourself, you’ll make your passengers feel more comfortable.

We salute all rideshare drivers, and want you to know Gridwise is here for you and working harder than ever to ensure you’re well-informed and equipped to weather this downturn in business. If you don’t have it yet, download the Gridwise app, so you won’t miss a thing.

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