Ride-Hailing Prices Skyrocket as the U.S. Emerges From the Pandemic

A shortage of drivers and spiking demand are driving Uber and Lyft prices higher than ever as the companies struggle to achieve profitability.

June 15, 2021, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

New York City

ant D / Shutterstock

A "perfect storm of extremely high demand and extremely low supply" is driving prices for ride-hailing services to all-time highs, reports Alissa Walker in Curbed. "The labor shortage is not unique to ride-hailing, but the situation is particularly dire right now at Uber and Lyft, where morale among its gig workers is low."

In New York City, the shortage is compounded by similar problems in the taxi industry. "There are two-thirds fewer cabs on New York City streets — only 3,500 per day compared to 10,500 before the pandemic — and it’s not clear how many of those taxis will ever return." Meanwhile, New Yorkers are filling the gap with lesser-known options like Via and The Drivers Cooperative

Mobility advocates hope that the current reckoning will highlight the problems with Uber's unsustainable business model and encourage people to seek other alternatives. "'Uber has been losing billions of dollars for years and years,' says Robin Chase, founder of the New Urban Mobility Alliance." It seems like the days of the "Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy," when techy startups funded by venture capitalists "allowed us to live Balenciaga lifestyles on Banana Republic budgets," are over. According to Chase, "[r]aising their prices is the only way they’ll ever break even or become profitable."

While New Yorkers bought more cars during the pandemic, they also sought out biking and transit options. "Citi Bike posted two all-time daily ridership records on back-to-back days last month," says Walker. "With summer weather ahead, shared scooters soon to hit streets, and 24/7 subway service restored, maybe a few months of high Uber prices won’t be the worst thing for New York."

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