Uber has suspended its Uber Pool feature in the United States, Canada, London, and Paris due to the worsening outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Uber Pool allows riders to share rides via a route of predetermined stops.
“Our goal is to help flatten the curve of community spread in the cities we serve. With that in mind, we are suspending the Uber Pool service in the United States and Canada. We remain in close contact with local leaders and will continue to work with them to discourage non-essential travel,” Andrew Macdonald, Uber's senior vice president for global rides and platform, told BuzzFeed News in a statement.
As of Tuesday, there were 185,067 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with 4,661 in the US. On Monday, public health officials in the Bay Area ordered residents to shelter in place for the next three weeks and not leave their homes except for "only the most essential needs." New Rochelle, New York, was declared a containment zone last week, and several states like Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, and Illinois, ordered the statewide shutdown of all nonessential businesses, like bars and restaurants.
“In our efforts to help protect you, your riders, and our community, we’ve decided to suspend Uber Pool until further notice,” an email sent out to drivers Tuesday morning read.
The email made it clear that all other kinds of Uber trips, including UberX rides and deliveries on Uber Eats, were still available.
The email announcing the suspension, which was provided to BuzzFeed News, also lists several tips the company has been regularly sending out to drivers, which include:
Wash their hands before and after entering your car
Give space by sitting in the back seat
Cover their mouth or nose if they cough or sneeze
Consider rolling down the window to improve ventilation
Lyft is also pausing Shared rides across all its markets, a spokesperson for the rival ride-share app told BuzzFeed News.
"The health and safety of the Lyft community is our top priority," the spokesperson said. "We’re dedicated to doing what we can to slow the spread of COVID-19. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and base our actions on official guidance."
Over the last two weeks, as the outbreak spread out from the first American epicenter in Seattle, Uber has struggled to communicate exactly how the ride-hailing app planned to protect drivers from the spread COVID-19.
On March 2, following two US deaths, Uber sent out guidelines about how to handle the outbreak, telling drivers to frequently wash their hands and, if they feel sick, to stay home. Last week, in an email, Uber told its drivers the company would provide cleaning supplies for cars and offer financial assistance for up to 14 days while drivers' accounts were on hold. The app has also closed its Greenlight Hubs, physical helpdesks in large cities with staff that onboards new drivers.
An anonymous Uber driver based in Seattle told BuzzFeed News that with workplaces shutting down due to self-quarantine in his area, he’s seen a massive decrease in rides.
“I'm more scared of the fact that I can't find sanitizing spray or sanitizing wipes to clean my car so I can only do so much," he said. "They had stated in their previous communique how they were going to work with drivers to get cleaning supplies we have heard zero follow up on that particular point and really any of the points push forward in that email communication. We have heard nothing from Uber and there is no resources for it on their website."
The Independent Drivers Guild, a Machinists Union project to organize and support app-based drivers that represents and advocates for more than 80,000 New York City ride-hail drivers, has been calling for the apps to stop Pool rides.
“Packing five strangers in a pooled ride is a bad idea right now. For the health and safety of drivers, riders and our communities, we are urging a moratorium on shared or 'pool' rides,” said Brendan Sexton, executive director of the Independent Drivers Guild, said in a statement.