What It’s Like Driving for a Ride-Hailing Company During a Pandemic
The switch from Uber to Uber Eats has helped make up for a lack of customers.
Editor’s Note: For our July issue of HONOLULU, we searched for stories from people all around O‘ahu about the moment COVID-19 became real to them. We spoke with a critical care nurse, care home operators, a mail carrier, a hotel worker who lost her job, a police captain and more back in April and May about the ways their lives at work and at home suddenly changed. Check back on honolulumagazine.com every week for a new story. Pick up the issue on newsstands in late June, subscribe or visit our online store.
Here’s the full version of Eric Quakenbush’s story in his own words, as told to James Charisma. The 55-year-old driver for Uber and Uber Eats lives in Mō‘ili‘ili.
In mid-March, I drove a family to the hospital. They had a sick little kid and none of us were wearing masks. But as soon as the family got out of my car and onto the sidewalk, the hospital staff made sure they all had masks on. I can’t recall the first time I heard about the coronavirus—late February, probably—but it was that moment at the hospital when COVID-19 probably became real for me, so to speak. Now every time I log on the app to start driving, I have to take this multistep pledge and take a photo of myself with a mask on.
I was raised in Silicon Valley but have lived on O‘ahu for 18 years. I’ve been with Uber for five years total, four years full-time. On average, I earn more driving Uber Eats; I haven’t driven an actual person since March 20. Before March, I didn’t deliver Eats too often—but on Mother’s Day, I made more than double than an average day. My goal this year was to stop driving, move back to the Mainland, and get back involved in the tech industry, which was my previous career. Then the pandemic hit.
In regard to COVID-19, I think the Uber Eats market in Hawai‘i lucked out. Uber doesn’t charge a delivery fee during this period of stay-at-home, but I don’t think this is the case in all cities. It’s still hard to pick up at some of the Waikīkī restaurants, even though it’s currently empty there most of the time. Uber encourages “leave at door” delivery on their ads but almost every condo and big apartment building has secure lobby doors, so people have to come down.
Luckily, I live alone and don’t have to protect folks at home. And since restaurants adapted their pickup process, I don’t end up interacting closely with many people so I’m not too worried. We can decline pickups too. I dropped some fast-food chains early on because they weren’t managing their customers from crowding. They also don’t pay their employees if they have to quarantine, which means sick people will probably just keep working so they can keep the lights on at home.
To be honest, some of Uber’s new guidelines are making me think twice about driving people anymore. They’re suggesting that drivers build and install their own clear plastic barrier between the front and back seats, like a cop car or New York City taxicab. I foresee lots of drivers having to wrestle with plastic sheets that come loose midride, or that wind up on passengers’ laps. Uber is also suggesting sanitizing the inside of the car between riders. That’s tough to do with fabric seats, even with Lysol sprays or wipes.
As for the pay with this job, the money driving Uber Eats now is about the same as Uber was before the pandemic, actually: just enough to pay bills, but not enough to get ahead.