‘I don’t pick up from airports’ — how Uber and Lyft drivers are dealing with the coronavirus outbreak

Tewodros Amare, a full-time Uber driver in Oakland, California, isn’t taking any chances when it comes to the coronavirus.

Amare gives an average of 100 rides per week around the San Francisco Bay Area and relies on his gig economy job to help pay his bills. Staying home isn’t an option, so instead he’s making sure he reduces his potential exposure to the coronavirus as much as possible.

“I wear rubber gloves,” he said. “And when I pick up more than two riders, I wear a mask.”

After every couple or so rides, Amare also wipes down his car with disinfectant wipes. He still does airport pickups, which are lucrative for many drivers. However, he said he rejects rides from the international terminal at San Francisco International Airport.

“I don’t feel completely comfortable,” he said.

Uber allows drivers to decline a ride if they feel uncomfortable. However, any discrimination against passengers based on race or national origin is prohibited.

In its annual report on Monday, Uber said the coronavirus could be a risk to its business if fewer people decide to take rides during an outbreak. Uber and Lyft have both communicated with drivers on how to stay healthy.

That advice includes regularly disinfecting their vehicles, particularly surfaces where passengers have contact. Drivers are also told to wash their hands, cover any coughs or sneezes and to stay home from work if they feel sick.

Both companies said they are closely monitoring the spread of the coronavirus and have established internal task forces that are keeping in contact with public health organizations.

“We have formed a dedicated global team of Uber operations, security and safety executives, guided by the advice of a consulting public health expert, to respond as needed in each market where we operate around the world,” Uber said in a statement.

A Lyft spokesperson added that “there is no indication of a unique risk to members of the Lyft community.”

Last Saturday, Silicon Valley Rising, an advocacy arm of Working Partnerships USA, called on tech companies to provide protections such as sick leave and protective equipment for contractors and gig economy workers, which include ride share drivers.

“Cafeteria workers, janitors, security officers, shuttle drivers, and people working in the gig economy frequently interact with large numbers of people in the course of their jobs,” the group wrote on Twitter. “It is critical that companies partner with workers and unions to mitigate risks and protect public health.”

While the number of cases of coronavirus continue to rise by the day, Amy Farner, who drives for Uber and Lyft in Phoenix, Arizona, said she hasn’t been concerned about it while driving.

Farner said she gives about 40 to 50 rides a week as she looks for a job.

“The odds are so low of contracting the virus right now that I see it as a waste of energy to worry about it,” she said. “Also, if I do catch the coronavirus, I have a great chance of combating the illness since I am a young and healthy person.”

“I may give second thought to some sneezes and coughs in my car, thanks to all the media stories, but that’s the extent of the effect the virus has on my life,” she added.