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Uber And Lyft Are Experiencing A Classic Problem: Supply And Demand

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

If you've tried to order a Lyft or an Uber lately, you probably noticed two things. It's really expensive, and you're going to have to wait a really long time. And that's because there just aren't enough drivers to go around. NPR's Bobby Allyn reports from Los Angeles.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Jenny Park (ph) landed recently at LAX. And to get home, she planned to call an Uber, but it would've been $150. That was half of the price of her flight from New York.

JENNY PARK: Roll my eyes to the back of my head until I can't roll them anymore (laughter). Like, literally, that's how I feel.

ALLYN: She tried Lyft. It was a tiny bit cheaper, but there was a wait.

PARK: It's supposed to be like a taxi service that's supposed to be, you know, convenient. But a 30-minute wait is not convenient.

ALLYN: Not convenient but increasingly common across the country. So, too, are the high prices. Lyft and Uber trips now cost nearly double what they did before the pandemic. The companies say it's a classic supply and demand problem. Vaccinated passengers are ready for rides, but drivers haven't returned in droves.

Hello.

JAPHET GOMEZ: Hello.

ALLYN: After waiting around for a while, I got a ride in LA's Echo Park and met driver Japhet Gomez (ph).

How often are you hearing from passengers about the long wait times and the high prices?

GOMEZ: It's quite often. Let's say out of my 20 trips that I do every day, let's say around 15.

ALLYN: Gomez is new to all of this. His dad is an Uber driver and got a $500 bonus from the company for convincing his son to get behind the wheel. Now Gomez, who is a mechanical engineering student, is driving an Uber as his summer job, 12 hours a day.

GOMEZ: It's quite bad for your body 'cause you're sitting for a long time nonstop.

ALLYN: He understands why in the pandemic many just got sick of driving for a living.

GOMEZ: And then once you get home, you're tired. You know, you don't want to do anything. So I do get it.

ALLYN: And the job has become more intense with so few drivers on the road. Across town, Roger Laura (ph) says he's zigzagging all over the city to pick up people. It's LA, so that means traffic, and everything is so spread out.

ROGER LAURA: Sometimes one ride will take you to the mountains. And guess what. You got an hour by yourself back and how much of gas you're going to waste.

ALLYN: Laura and two of his friends who are Lyft and Uber drivers found a solution. They're quitting to become truck drivers. And they're not alone. Many others are moving on. Some stay off the roads because they're worried about COVID. Yet, Lyft CFO Brian Roberts told investors this week he's optimistic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN ROBERTS: We do expect that you'll see folks who like the independence from the gig work to come back to ride-shares.

ALLYN: Roberts says some drivers will come back when expanded federal unemployment benefits end next month. But for people calling Lyfts and Ubers now, it's kind of a disaster. Or as Jenny Park put it...

PARK: It's a [expletive]show (laughter).

ALLYN: And she has a message for Lyft and Uber executives.

PARK: Get it together. It needs to be affordable for the passenger, but also needs to be, you know, well-paying to the driver. Like, there's got to be some sort of medium.

ALLYN: But for now, riders are feeling the pain, and the drivers still out there are scrambling just to keep up.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.