Studying Chicago-Area Rideshare Drivers During the Pandemic

Preethi Pratap headshot.

Not surprisingly, rideshares decreased in March and April 2020 as COVID-19 shutdowns swept the U.S., but for rideshare workers, choices were often grim. Some have continued to work at personal risk, working more hours waiting for fares and earning less money. Others have felt that they could not risk exposure to the virus and have stayed home, with a large loss of income. Published statistics from Uber and Lyft reflect ridership decreases of 70 to 80 percent in April but only a 58 percent decrease in drivers.

Although rideshare drivers, as independent contractors, qualified for CARES Act unemployment benefits, overwhelmed state benefit systems often failed to pay out benefits. Others did not qualify for benefits because of part-time income or status as an undocumented immigrant. Benefits for gig workers expired in July 2020.

Researchers with SPH’s Great Lakes Center for Occupational Health and Safety and Center for Healthy Work have launched a study to examine the experiences of Chicago-area rideshare drivers during the pandemic. The goal is to understand barriers and facilitators to implement workplace policies and guidance that support health and safety of rideshare workers and app-based drivers as the pandemic continues.

“For some drivers, this was the only way to put food on the table,” said Preethi Pratap, PhD, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences. “There isn’t much we know about what employers did to provide safety protections and guidance for these workers.”

The study is part of a partnership with Gig Workers Matter (GWM), a Chicago-based organization aiming to bring together on-demand workers across industries to organize for better working conditions, benefits and voice in determining the terms of their employment arrangement. Through anonymous online surveys, the study will examine drivers’ experiences during the pandemic: hours worked, ability of drivers to provide financially for their families, effects on stress levels and well-being, perceptions about workplace risks, protections against the virus provided by employers and safety steps taken independently by drivers.

Pratap notes the City of Chicago launched a new program funding Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for taxicab drivers, but rideshare drivers are not eligible. Unionized rideshare workers in Seattle have negotiated for funding to purchase PPE, fair pay and paid sick leave; Chicago rideshare workers do not have formal collective bargaining power.

Survey results could inform future research on rideshare drivers’ health. Pratap says data from this study could be used by GWM to advocate for improved working conditions for rideshare drivers in Chicago.

2020 Healthviews Magazine