Uber and Lyft Safety Measures During COVID-19 Outbreak: Is It Still Safe to Ride?

The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought a significant part of the United States to a halt, and for ridesharing platforms like Uber and Lyft, that phrase can be taken almost literally. With the federal and local governments imposing “stay at home” orders and many businesses shifting to telecommuting, the demand for ridesharing services has plummeted. 

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, ridesharing had become wildly popular, serving as an attractive transportation option for riders to get to work, school, or to have a safe night out with friends. As an illustration, the number of worldwide active users of Uber rose form 49 million users in the first quarter of 2017 to 111 million users in the fourth quarter of 2019. However, once the stay-at-home orders were implemented and businesses began to close, there was no longer a significant demand for the ridesharing platforms, and they experienced a massive decrease in riders.

The lack of demand for Uber and Lyft is surely understandable, with most non-essential workers no longer having a commute for work and few entertainment and social options remaining open. Many riders are also concerned about the spread of the virus and coming into contact with it through utilizing Uber and Lyft vehicles. 

With businesses, bars, and restaurants reopening across the country, there will again be an increasing demand for ridesharing platforms. In fact, Lyft reported a 26% increase in in rides in May when compared to April. But for many wary riders, there are many questions that still need to be answered. What precautions are Uber and Lyft taking? Is it safe to use an Uber or Lyft right now? What can riders do to minimize their risk while using Uber or Lyft?

What Safety Measures are Uber and Lyft Taking to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19?

COVID-19 has introduced an entirely new safety hazard that has required Uber and Lyft to quickly adapt to the unforeseen circumstances. While the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths were drastically increasing, both Uber and Lyft encouraged riders to only utilize their services for essential transportation, such as for essential work and for groceries. Even as the nation is reopening, the services still ask that riders limit their non-essential rides.

Since the start of the pandemic, Uber and Lyft have been able to develop and implement measures and rules intended to keep both drivers and riders safe. First, both Uber and Lyft have worked directly with manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitizing supplies. This has allowed both platforms to get cleaning supplies to their drivers, at no cost to the drivers. In fact, according to a May 21st press release from Uber, the company has distributed PPE to 450,000 of their drivers. 

On both platforms, drivers are strongly encouraged to sanitize their cars frequently, particularly with parts of the car that come into frequent contact with riders, such as door handles, seatbelts, and the power window switches. Uber also provides video tips on YouTube on how to properly clean and disinfect cars for drivers, and on how to properly wear a face covering. Lyft has educational content available on its mobile app for drivers, and will soon be releasing content for riders, as well.

New Safety Protocols for Drivers and Riders

The most significant change for Uber and Lyft has been their Door-to-Door Safety Standard and Health Safety Program, respectively. Under both programs, drivers must verify that they have taken certain safety measures, including wearing a face covering (for Uber, this is done by taking a selfie using Uber’s technology that detects the face covering) and that their vehicle has been properly sanitized. If the driver does not verify that they have a face covering and that the vehicle has been cleaned, they will not be able to go online to accept rides.

Prior to entering the Uber or Lyft vehicle, riders must also go through a similar checklist for both platforms. This checklist includes riders verifying that they: 

  • are also wearing a face covering;
  • have washed their hands before entering the vehicle; and 
  • are experiencing no symptoms of the virus. 

If the riders do not confirm that they have taken these precautions and are symptom-free, they will not be able to order a ride. In addition to these measures, riders are strongly encouraged to sit in the back seat of the car, and to keep the windows in the vehicle open when possible.

Is it Safe to Take an Uber or Lyft?

While there is still much that is unknown about COVID-19 and how the virus spreads, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that the main manner in which the virus spreads is through person-to-person contact. While it is possible for the virus to live on objects, it is much less likely to pass from a surface of an inanimate object to a person, particularly when proper precautions are taken. 

Ultimately, it is up to the individual drivers to determine whether they are comfortable riding in a ridesharing vehicle. According to CDC guidelines, however, Uber and Lyft have both taken the appropriate measures to decrease the risk of spreading the virus. This includes limiting the amount of person-to-person contact that is involved in their rides, which is the main manner in which the virus spreads. 

Drivers are also unable to go online without confirming that they are following proper safety protocols, such as wearing a face covering and sanitizing the vehicle frequently. These measures help to ensure that the rides will be as safe as possible for riders if the riders are also practicing proper precautions.

What Should Riders Do Before They Get in the Vehicle?

First and foremost, riders should follow the safety programs that have been implemented by Uber and Lyft. While this is probably self-evident at this point, riders should always wear some form of face covering when using these ridesharing platforms. To reiterate, riders must confirm with the Uber or Lyft app that they are wearing a face covering, or they will not be able to order a ride. It is also a good idea to wear gloves if the rider has access to a pair, as this further reduces the chance that the rider will come into contact with the virus. 

What Should Riders Do Once They Get in the Vehicle?

When in the vehicle, the rider should only sit in the back seat of the car, putting as much distance between themselves and driver as the vehicle allows. If it is possible, the rider should also have the window down. While this might make conversation difficult, it is necessary to allow air (and if present, the virus) to circulate out of the car. The rider should sit with their hands in their lap and be sure to avoid touching their face and avoid touching other parts of the vehicle as well. 

It is important to note that even before ordering the Uber or Lyft, the rider should consider whether it is absolutely necessary to call for a ride. Uber and Lyft are still encouraging riders to only utilize their services when necessary, so riders should consider potential alternatives before ordering a ride. 

If the rider does deem the ride necessary, they should also try to limit the number of people in the car. For example, in an UberX (which normally sits four passengers), riders should be limited to three in order to prevent a rider sitting in the front seat and therefore in close proximity to the driver. 

Summary: 10 Steps for the Rider to Ensure a Safe Trip

1) Determine whether the ride is necessary and limit the number of riders to three at the maximum
2) Order the ride and confirm in the app that you:

  • Are wearing a face covering
  • Have washed your hands
  • Are experiencing no symptoms of the virus

3) If possible, put on a pair of gloves
4) Enter the backseat of the vehicle
5) Open the window
6) Keep your hands on your lap, avoiding contact with other parts of the vehicle
7) Do not touch your face
8) Exit the vehicle by only touching the door handle
9) Wash your hands immediately upon arrival at your destination
10) Tip your driver if you can! They are putting themselves at greater risk by offering these
rides, and tips are a great way to thank them for their services.