OPINION: COVID Vaccines for Rideshare Drivers Can Keep our Communities Safer

Author: Ahmed Mumin, Executive Director, Seattle Rideshare Drivers Association

In 2019, Uber and Lyft drivers provided roughly 28 million rides (about 53 rides per minute) in the Puget Sound Area – 4 million more than in 2018. This continued growth reflected an increase in people choosing to get around the city without their own cars. And the growth is made possible by thousands of hard-working drivers, some of whom rely on rideshare driving as their primary source of income.  It is in the public’s interest to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for rideshare drivers.

More than 34,000 drivers in the rideshare industry in the Puget Sound area are uniquely at risk to exposure to the virus while in close proximity to their rideshare clients.  Without precautions, this puts us all at risk. As the number of rides begins to pick up in pace, drivers should not be forced to risk exposure in order to support their families.

Considering how many drivers have a stake in this industry and in economic recovery, you’d think drivers would be directly involved in any discussions related to how rideshare is regulated in our state and region. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

Uber and Lyft have taken some important steps toward helping drivers to receive the vaccine, but they have done far too little listening to drivers’ concerns. We believe drivers are best able to convey what’s at stake, and what can be done to strike the right balance between keeping rideshare safe and spurring the recovery our region needs.

Many Uber and Lyft drivers, and especially those driving more than 40 hours per week, have no safety net. Many are also former taxi drivers who are underwater on their taxi medallions because of how much value these medallions have lost in recent years. We urge our government officials and healthcare providers to consider and address the realities of the pandemic in the rideshare driver community.

Many drivers are from low-income communities.  The impact of COVID on their health and livelihood has been devastating. Drivers are providing an essential service to the community, and they have lost a significant source of their income as travel and the number of passengers has fallen precipitously. 

Many of our drivers are immigrants and people of color, who are too often left out of critical policy debates impacting their lives, families and livelihoods. Drivers should be prioritized and be able to partner with industry and government to develop solutions that can keep our communities and families safe. Furthermore, the vaccine should also be distributed to immigrants and undocumented people who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

This is why we, The Seattle Rideshare Drivers Association (SRDA), urge lawmakers to ensure rideshare drivers be given priority when it comes to receiving the vaccine. We believe that if our drivers were included early in the vaccine distribution process, our communities would be safer.  Together we can save many lives.

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