Ride-sharing giants Uber and Lyft said on Tuesday that they are voluntarily halting their popular car-pooling service in the U.S. and Canada over fears of Covid-19 spreading among ride-hailers packed in crowded cars.
Regular ride-hailing service on both apps will continue. So will Uber’s food delivery service, Uber Eats.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to alter nearly every facet of our day-to-day lives—from the cancellation of sports events and large gatherings to the temporary closure of restaurants and movie theaters—significant changes to how ride-hailing apps do business seem all but inevitable.
The service changes announced by Uber and Lyft confirmed what New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday after signing an executive order to ban ride-sharing in the city. The move was to “protect drivers and riders alike,” de Blasio tweeted. “This will give everyone more social distance. We’re doing this in agreement with the major ride share companies.”
De Blasio said at a press briefing on Tuesday that rides in New York City will be limited to solo passengers—unless a pair of passengers seeking the ride are a “real couple.” How Uber or Lyft drivers should enforce the policy, such as verifying riders’ relationship, though, is unclear.
“Believe me, that is the last thing drivers want to police!” Moira Muntz, a spokesperson for the Independent Drivers Guild, a New York-based driver advocacy group, told Observer.
“But drivers were happy the mayor acted so that companies like Via [a ride-sharing service] cannot continue to pack five strangers to a van,” she added.
Uber is also suspending car pooling service London and Paris, both hard hit by the coronavirus. “Our goal is to help flatten the curve of community spread in the cities we serve. With that in mind, we are suspending the Uber Pool service in the United States and Canada,” Uber’s senior vice president Andrew MacDonald said in statement to BuzzFeed. “We remain in close contact with local leaders and will continue to work with them to discourage non-essential travel.”
Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, Uber and Lyft drivers had been urging the two companies to scale back ride-hailing service for days. Both companies had encouraged drivers to keep business as normal as possible.
Since the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. skyrocketed in early March, Uber and Lyft had gradually changed their tones on driver security, from offering cleaning supplies on worksites to finally assuring drivers that they could qualify for two weeks’ paid sick leave if they exhibit symptoms of Covid-19.