“If I didn’t have to make money, I wouldn’t be out driving”- Life as an Uber driver during coronavirus

Image by freestocks-photos from Pixabay

By Inyeong Kim
BU News Service

BOSTON — Across the country, people are being told to stay home, and photographs show streets, parks and tourist attractions deserted. But not everyone can stop working in the midst of the pandemic. 30-year-old Uber driver, Joseph Koury, from Fenway, is still roaming the streets, even when most of his customers are gone. 

Koury has been driving for Uber for eight months, and even though he was discouraged by the coronavirus, he said he still had to drive and appreciated that he was able to work. But COVID-19 has changed his work dramatically.

“The city before was like this hustling, busting, flourishing city full of life, where you turn the app on and you’re gonna get a ride in like two seconds,” he said. “Now you might get one ride an hour, maybe two rides an hour.”

The chief executive of Uber, Dara Khosrowshashi, said last month that its total rides could potentially decline by 80% for the whole year, costing the company up to $6 billion.

Koury said he now earns less than half of what he used to earn before the pandemic. Then, he could make $200 a day, but now he said he gets $60 to $80 a day. In order to make up his income, he sells his artwork and works as a superintendent. But these things have also been impacted.

“I drive usually 30 or 40 hours a week and then try to work on my art as often as I can in the off time,” Koury said. “But a lot of opportunities to sell paintings got taken away with the virus because all the different shows that you can be a part of are now canceled.”

As a young and healthy man, he said he is not afraid of getting infected by COVID-19 himself, but he worries about the economic situation and the people around him. 

In order to keep his customers and himself healthy, he said he keeps his vehicle clean with disinfectant spray, sanitizing wipes and paper towels. He also opens the windows as much as he can to get fresh air into his car. 

But he still worries that he could catch the virus from a passenger, especially those who might not show the symptoms.  

“The thing is you really don’t know,” Koury said. “Someone might even have it and not be showing any symptoms, so that’s another thing that you got to watch out for.”

According to Massachusetts law, workers have the right to use 40 hours of paid sick time per year. So, Uber offers two weeks of paid sick time to drivers who are diagnosed with COVID-19. But for drivers who are without diagnoses, without a doctor’s note or self-isolating after contact with an infected person, there are no protections. 

“Because of the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, it would be good for [Uber] to provide paid sick leave to drivers to prevent the spread of COVID-19,”said the executive director of Workplace Fairness, Edgar Ndjatou. “However, technically, they are not required to since in most states Uber drivers are classified as independent contractors.”

Koury said that even though people are taking Uber less, the customers in his car don’t seem to express much anxiety. Instead of freaking out, customers showed understanding of the current situation during their conversations.

Koury said he’s trying to be grateful for the way the pandemic has brought people together, and he’s trying to see things in a positive light.

“I’m not making as much as if things were back to normal, but I’m grateful that I’m still able to work,” he said. “A lot of people aren’t.” 

He understands the seriousness of the current situation but realizes that he can’t risk quarantine or he’ll have to sacrifice his income.

“I don’t want to make light of it because it is a big deal,” he said. “If I didn’t have to make money, I wouldn’t be out driving.”

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