More than half of Uber and Lyft drivers stopped driving during the pandemic, and that number is far from recovered, new data shows

  • Fewer drivers are using Uber and Lyft than they were before the pandemic, and that number hasn’t recovered.
  • The numbers are slowly improving but demand from riders is surging even quicker.
  • Drivers want to be assured of their safety as well as income before returning.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Uber and Lyft say that demand from riders has reached or surpassed pre-pandemic levels. But when it comes to drivers they still have a long way to go, according to new data.

Last month, the number of drivers on the road for Uber and Lyft in the US was 35% lower than where it was in January of last year, according to data from Gridwise, an app for ridehail drivers. That’s a slight improvement over the worst pandemic lows, but it gives a sense of how much work the companies still need to do to get fully up and running. Still less than two-thirds the number of pre-pandemic drivers are driving for the apps, the data shows.

Both companies are spending big to lure drivers back to the road as they see a surge in demand from riders in the US, buoyed by declining COVID-19 rates due to increased vaccinations. Uber and Lyft have launched high priced public campaigns, offering drivers incentives and short-term offers to pick up more passengers. Investors have been bullish on both companies in recent months, seeing them as strong businesses in a post pandemic economy, with growing revenue and diminishing losses. Both have started signaling to investors that they could become profitable in the near future.

But even if rider demand continues its upswing, the companies won’t be able to recover if they can’t get enough drivers. Interviews with ridehail drivers reveal a litany of worries and complaints that are keeping them from coming back onto the road. Among the key ones are safety from getting infected by passengers, but also the reliability of income. 

Uber and Lyft will need to make the case to drivers that it’s safe to come back and that the money will be good — not only through current promotions but to lure them into driving several months down the line.

The chart above, using data provided to Insider by Gridwise, shows the change in drivers that have been on the road over the past 15 months, using a baseline of January 2020. It tells the story of drivers abandoning the platforms as the pandemic ebbed and flowed in the US. 

Uber and Lyft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

At its worst last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep across the US and lockdowns were extended across the country in April, Uber and Lyft had lost 60% of their drivers compared to January 2020, the data shows. Gridwise’s data comes from its userbase of 200,000 of ride-hailing drivers on Uber and Lyft who use the service to track their earnings. 

The numbers improved a bit over the summer, as many parts of the US dipped their toes into reopening. But as the second and third waves of the pandemic in the US hit, at the end of last year and in the first few months of this year, drivers again began dropping off. Currently the number of drivers who’ve stopped driving for Uber and Lyft is around the same as it was late last summer.

As drivership has declined, Uber and Lyft say they’re seeing a quick recovery in rider demand. Uber disclosed earlier this month that it had more bookings in March than it had seen in any month in its history. Lyft also said its bookings had reached pre pandemic levels. High demand isn’t a bad problem to have, but if these companies can’t meet it, driver supply will be just one of the issues they’ll have to deal with.

Are you an Uber or Lyft employee with insight to share? Contact this reporter at [email protected] using a non-work device, or through Twitter DM @cityofthetown.

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