The two competing rideshare giants have announced two competing plans to offer free rides for vaccine shots, but the fine print shows that plenty of these rides will not actually be free.
It seemed ironic earlier this month that Uber asked that its drivers be given priority for the new COVID-19 vaccinations, considering that Uber had just spent north of $60 million to avoid giving its drivers healthcare benefits in the Prop. 22 election battle. But their reasoning is obvious, they want riders to feel as safe as possible in their drivers’ vehicles again because rideshare business is way down. Now both Uber and Lyft look to playing the sympathy card too — both pulling the same move, but separately — as Bay City News reports that Uber is offering 10 million free rides to get vaccinations, whereas USA Today reports Lyft is offering 60 million free rides for riders to get the vaccine.
Both companies are getting very nice headlines for offering the free rides, but a close look at the press releases shows these are not all free rides. Uber’s Dec. 18 announcement of the move referred to “10 million free or discounted rides,” and Lyft’s press release (a copycat move that came four days later with the more impressive sounding 60 million rides) references “free or discounted rides for those in need.” Neither announcement clarifies what percentage of rides will actually be free, nor what the discount would be on discounted rides, and Lyft’s release actually hits people up for donations to fund the program.
“This is an opportunity to use our collective strength to mobilize on a massive scale and serve our communities,” Lyft CEO John Zimmer says in the release. “We cannot let lack of transportation be a factor in determining whether people have access to healthcare.”
Of course, driving for Lyft is a “factor in determining whether people have access to healthcare,” and not in a good way. Both companies did add a fig-leaf quarterly subsidy for health care in the language of Prop. 22, but it only applies to drivers who average 15 hours active driving time with a customer in the car, every week of that quarter, without exceptions. That’s tough to do during a pandemic when rides are quite scarce.
Keep in mind also that these tens of millions of rides to get vaccines are totally aspirational, the country currently has nowhere near the numbers of doses to correspond with these rides. Pfizer and Moderna have shipped only a few million doses thus far, and states say their shipments contained far fewer doses than they were promised. July 2021 is about the earliest we could see doses available on the scale Uber and Lyft are discussing, and we may not have figured out who gets priority for the vaccine even by then.
And who’s paying for the gas for these free vaccine rides? Not Uber or Lyft! Who’s paying for the drivers’ PPE so the rider is safe? Not Uber or Lyft! This supposed grand gesture of corporate philanthropy may indeed provide some free rides for some people who could not otherwise get the vaccine, but it may be months until we have enough doses to know whether these programs are helping. Even then, their efforts may need a booster shot of actual funding from the companies to make any real impact, and there is certainly no mention of funding in either company’s announcement. Unless you count Lyft's solicitation for a contribution from you.
Image: @danielcgold via Unsplash