Automotive > Connected Mobility Blog

COVID-19: Uber, Lyft, & Amazon

by Roger Lanctot | Apr 21, 2020

COVID-19 has made April 2020 an especially cruel month, but its cruelty has been magnified by the employment practices and policies of particular technology leaders. Uber and Lyft have sought to continue to operate by delivering food as well as providing "essential" deliveries and rides. Amazon, too, has persevered and even added personnel to man its warehouses.

None of these operators have taken sufficient steps to protect workers against the COVID-19 outbreak. Amazon has even gone so far as to sanction or terminate warehouse employees who have complained about working conditions or sought to organize to improve working conditions.

In an extraordinary twist that has intertwined the fates of these three organizations, both Uber and Lyft have advised their out-of-work drivers in the U.S. - unable to find people moving opportunities during stay-at-home orders - to seek employment at Amazon.

Uber and Lyft have tried to fill in the idle time with money-losing package deliveries. They ought to have either taken steps to protect their non-employee drivers with gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, and temporary (or permanent) in-vehicle partitions or simply recognized their drivers as employees and compensated them appropriately during the downturn.

Both organizations have chosen to continue to operate with recommendations/guidelines for drivers to adopt these measures - but no requirements for driver testing, vehicle cleaning, or social distancing measures. Even DiDi Chuxing in China - with 30 million drivers on its platform - spent $14M to have plastic partitions installed in its vehicles.

DiDi took its action in the absence of regulatory action but likely in recognition of passenger and driver fear and resistance. Uber and Lyft have done little or nothing.

The regulatory inertia in the U.S. and most other markets is remarkable. There is no question that both Uber and Lyft ought to have been shut down unless or until sufficient safety measures were adopted - especially if they were to be providers of transportation for health care workers. Not a single state regulator in the U.S. sought to stop either company.

Thankfully, the stay-at-home orders have proved to be a powerful influence - driving down trips and decimating the pool of available drivers, many of whom stopped driving out of concern for their own health and in the absence of safety steps taken by the operators themselves. Amazon, meanwhile, has its own struggles implementing acceptable or effective COVID-19 countermeasures for warehouse employees. The New York Times reports that coronavirus outbreaks have occurred in 50 Amazon warehouses - and France has called for the closing of Amazon's fulfillment centers in that country.

All three organizations, Uber, Lyft, and Amazon, have failed to take proper care of employees in a time of crisis. Matters are even worse at Uber and Lyft, where drivers aren't even employees - thereby leaving them out in the cold without access to unemployment or any other compensation.

The pervasive cynicism of all three, reflected in Amazon's ongoing pronoucements of its plans to hire hundreds of thousands of additional warehouse personnel, and Uber's and Lyft's package and essential personnel delivery pivots is an ominous example of the employment prospects that await a restive global population when restrictions are lifted. Workers' rights and self respect are in the balance and COVID-19 is tipping that balance in the wrong direction.

But hope springs eternal in Dallas, Tex., in the U.S. where ride hailing operator, Alto, soldiers on with robust employee-protecting policies, procedures, and materiele - along with paid leave and worker's compensation. Alto also owns its vehicles - 75 Buick Enclaves.

Founder Will Coleman detailed the combination of existing policies along with COVID-19-related safety measures in a series of tweets in March:

  • Safety for our customers and our entire community starts with keeping people who are sick off the road! Our W2 employees have Paid Sick Time, and emergency COVID leave. #GiG ICs have no protections and are forced to trade off working while sick vs. providing for family.
  • In fact, all Alto drivers have their temperature checked before each shift, and per @CDCgov and @WHO guidance, aren’t allowed to work their shift with a temp above 99.6 degrees. How are others ensuring the person delivering your items aren’t sick?
  • All Alto vehicles are deep cleaned and disinfected with EPA-registered products after each shift. We provide Alto drivers gloves and EPA-registered wipes to disinfect surfaces throughout their shift. These products are hard to find. Are ICs able to procure themselves? Speaking of gloves, Alto drivers use *new, clean gloves* to pickup AND *new, clean gloves* to drop off all deliveries. Deliveries are touchless whenever possible. We’re experimenting with leaving another pair of gloves for our Customer to handle their delivery if desired.
  • And, we’re working with experts to understand effective ways to disinfect packages (corrugated, plastic, etc.) for customers at their doorstep to provide a final layer of protection.
  • Finally, all Alto rides and deliveries are video monitored with secure, cloud-based interior and exterior cameras. This gives us certainty of a tamper-proof supply chain for valuable and regulated cargo like prescriptions. Who’s watching your food/groceries/things today? 

Alto is expanding its operations into nearby Fort Worth with its Buick Enclaves operated by Alto employees. The measures Alto has taken to shift its business almost entirely to B2B package delivery, while ensuring the safety of both drivers and passengers, is indeed a model for the entire ride hailing and package delivery business.

"Employee" abuse has been rampant in the so-called gig economy. In a post-COVID-19 world, let's hope Alto's higher ethical standards can be achieved and emulated if not required by regulation. It would be a shame to exchange a viral pandemic for a loss in workers' rights, declining compensation, and diminished health care coverage.

Previous Post: Mobility Gets COVID-19 Reset | Next Post: The Great 2020 Mobility Rethink

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