Washington, D.C.-area Uber drivers are suffering a shutdown double whammy: They are seeing a decline in fares due to federal workers staying home and simultaneously an increase in competition because some of those same idled workers are resorting to ride-sharing to boost their income.
The partial government shutdown fallout compounds the problem of recent shifts in Uber’s rate structure that many drivers claim are taking an even bigger bite out of their fares, leaving them feeling squeezed from both ends.
“I've definitely noticed a big slowdown," said Troy, a D.C.-based driver who declined to give his full name in order to speak candidly. "Two factors: 1. Less people going to and from work means less trips to be given. 2. More drivers vying for a smaller number of rides. I've had a number of riders say their last driver was a furloughed federal employee."
David Hogberg, a Maryland-based part-time driver for Uber, said that the peak hours, like commute time, are still good times to drum up business. “It is the non-peak hours where I’ve noticed that things have really dropped off and that has a fair amount to do with the shutdown,” he said.
Hogberg says he often drives on Tuesdays from morning to early afternoon after he takes his son to daycare. “That has dropped off a lot since last year," he said. "I used to get anywhere from six to 10 rides. Now it’s been like three or four."
Last year, Uber shifted its rate structure in ways that significantly cut into earnings, drivers say.
In October, Uber increased the rates drivers were paid per minute while decreasing the rate they were paid per mile. The company claimed in a post on its website that the shift would leave most drivers' incomes unaffected, a claim many drivers say hasn't proven true. And while the shutdown is expected to end sooner or later, the new rates are expected to stay put.
To compensate for the lost income, many people drive more hours, which ends up compounding the supply and demand problem.
“Best way for you to get a visual is to go to Reagan Airport’s Uber lot between 7 pm and 11 pm. It becomes so packed that you can barely move within the lot,” said one driver, who, like others, asked not to be identified by name.
Christmas through January was already a lean period in terms of fares, noted another driver, due to the holidays and so many people being on vacation or on break from college.
“Perhaps the twist on the story will be, that the shut-down-government employees who have chosen to supplement their income to get by will realize that driving for Uber is significantly harder and more painful than expected,” mused one driver.
A spokesman for Uber declined to comment on both the shutdown and their rate structure.