Why Austinites may see higher prices and longer wait times for ridesharing

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — You may have noticed an increase in prices or wait times on ridesharing platforms in Austin. Both Uber and Lyft say they are trying to keep up with a spike in demand from passengers.

“I have started to go out more in Austin, trying to take advantage of things reopening,” says Alden J. Robins, who lives in north Austin.

For Robins, that means using ridesharing options again. But when she tried to book a Lyft to get home last weekend, she says her ride that normally costs about $35 was priced at more than $100.

“It really felt like, almost like I was being taken advantage of as a consumer,” she said.

Lyft tells KXAN they’re seeing a big increase in demand for rides and are working to meet it by offering more incentives to drivers.

“We’re seeing big increases in demand for rides, as vaccines roll out and people start moving again. We’re working to meet demand, including providing incentives to drivers, who are busier and earning more than they were even before the pandemic,” said a Lyft spokesperson.

Austin Uber driver, Lee, said he’s seeing the same thing.

“That’s how short they are. They’re going to give me $1,000 just to go to my brother and say, ‘Hey, come on back to work,'” he said as he showed a promotion on his cell phone.

Lee said he’s been driving for Uber in Austin for about five years but hasn’t seen incentives this high, before.

He said he’s also seeing bonuses to pick up more rides and rides that are further away.

“They’ve got to make up that difference through the consumer. They have to. Otherwise, I wouldn’t take that ride to go get you on the north side,” Lee said.

UT professor Edward Anderson says wages are also up: Nationwide, Uber drivers’ wages are up from $18 per hour before the pandemic to $25 now. In Austin, it was $16.50 pre-COVID, up to $33 an hour now. 

So with all these incentives, why aren’t more drivers signing up?

“During COVID, initially a lot of people — A lot of drivers actually got out of the business,” said Anderson, Wright Centennial Professor for Management of Innovative Technology at the McCombs School of Business.

Anderson also said many also switched to food delivery, for less contact with customers.

“There’s also this perception, frankly, that the ride sharing companies aren’t that great to work for. And even though there’s high wages being paid right now, most drivers don’t believe that they’re actually going to last,” he said.

Robins is glad she took a Lyft instead of trying to drive after drinking– but she’s already limiting her use of the app by staying home more.

“Today I kind of thought about it, I was like, ‘Gosh, I’d love to go do something,’ but I was like, you know, I really want to stay home and save money,” she said. “I worry that people will drink and drive because they can’t afford $100 Lyft ride home.”

More drivers may be on the way. Lyft drivers going through the onboarding process were up by more than 25% in May compared to February.

The company also hopes that as vaccinations continue, more drivers will feel safer coming back.

KXAN reached out to Uber for this story but hasn’t heard back.

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