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Coronavirus Lockdown Puts the Squeeze on San Antonio Gig Economy Workers

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DLLU / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Dllu / Wikimedia Commons
Seen any Uber drivers around lately?

Chances are you haven't. In this climate of social distancing, not many folks want to pile into a car and sit a couple feet away from a stranger.

That has spelled problems for San Antonio's gig economy. One ride-share driver who declined to give his name said he's witnessed a 75% decrease in rides during off-peak hours. Work during peak hours has dropped in half.

A recent Business Insider survey of more than 1,000 ride-share workers corroborated the downturn. Its numbers were even more bleak, however, putting the decrease at as much as 80% nationally.

It's unclear exactly how many San Antonio workers rely on ride-share driving and other app-based employment. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated in 2017 that a third of all U.S. workers drew paychecks from the gig economy. BLS predicted that number would rise to 43% in 2020.

The decline in ridership has created a market correction that's pulled local drivers off the road and forced them to seek other income.

“There’s no money out there for ride-sharing," said another driver who requested anonymity. "People sit and wait at the Uber pool at the airport and need to drive so far away to grab people. It’s not even worth it.”

While it seems like delivery services such as GrubHub and DoorDash could offer a quick pivot, local drivers say those aren't accepting new drivers. One shared a screen capture of a message from DoorDash saying it's not looking for new delivery drivers but promised to email once that changed.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission, self-employed residents affected by the outbreak may qualify for benefits under the Federal Stimulus Bill. It urged affected workers to call it at 800-939-6631 or visit its website to apply for benefits.

However, with more than half a million Texans filing unemployment claims in the last 18 days, TWC's phone and computer systems have been overwhelmed, leading to busy signals and website crashes.

But there's been a bit of good news for local gig workers.

Some say they successfully switched to food delivery and are offsetting their losses. A handful reported that by driving for Uber Eats, they've even seen an upswing in traffic.

One driver who declined to be named said he's between jobs and is pulling in decent income driving for Favor. Among Favor's perks are guaranteed pay if he has works a specific number of hours and an incentive program increases his pay for the weekend.

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