COVID-19 pandemic affecting Uber drivers, ride-sharing usage at SLC Airport

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) A Uber/Lyft driver picks up a customer, August 21, 2019 at the Salt Lake International Airport.

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic brought everyday life to a halt, Teresea Melendez and her husband both drove for Uber.

Melendez, who teaches music lessons privately from her home but has since begun doing lessons via video conference, would drive “six hours on a good day.” Her husband was driving more — four or five days per week, six-to-eight hours per day — after deciding to take a severance package and early retirement from CenturyLink.

The couple, who live in Layton with two of their five children, began driving in January, a couple of weeks before the Sundance Film Festival invaded Park City and the surrounding areas.

“It was absolutely a good second income,” Melendez told The Salt Lake Tribune in a phone interview.

The second week of March, which included Rudy Gobert’s positive coronavirus test and the NCAA Tournament being canceled, is when things started to turn, not just for Melendez, but for everyone. People began self-quarantining, and for those who weren’t, they were certainly selective about when and where they went out.

Three weeks later, social-distancing guidelines are in place and many are working from home, so Melendez has given up the Ubering, not for good, but for now.

“Right around the beginning of March, you could see it starting to slow down,” Melendez said. “My husband had hip-replacement surgery on March 13. I remember the day before that, they were really cracking down in terms of restaurants, social distancing, telling people to stay home.”

People no longer needed rides, but people still had to eat, so Melendez began delivering for UberEats. As the name may indicate, UberEats is in the same realm as GrubHub, DoorDash and Postmates. You order from a restaurant using an app, and a driver picks up your order and delivers it to your front door.

According to a report this week by Forbes, UberEats has seen a 30% increase recently in sign-ups for the service and an increase in new drivers. Forbes also reported a 10% increase in UberEats sales last week despite the pandemic.

Melendez had the right idea in an effort to make up the supplemental income lost from Uber, but it quickly became apparent that her time and effort weren’t going to be worth the trouble.

“If I started at let’s say 10 a.m., take a break in the afternoon, get something to eat, then go back out until maybe 7 p.m., I would make, maybe, between $80 and $100,” Melendez said. “At that point, I was thinking it wasn’t worth it. It was taking me all over. I live in Layton, and I was migrating to West Valley City.

“In a sense, it was not worth my gas.”

UberEats is generally popular in large United States markets like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, but nationwide, the service only garnered 20% of U.S. meal-delivery sales in February, per a Second Measure analysis.

A week ago, with UberEats requests lacking or requiring an inconvenient amount of time or gas, Melendez decided to call it quits.

For now, Melendez is watching the COVID-19 numbers intently, like so many other people across the state and the country. She plans to go back to Ubering when social-distancing guidelines loosen, which will presumably allow more flights to take off, more weddings to take place and more restaurants to open.

Her reasonable presumption is that Uber usage will again spike. It’s just a matter of when, even if it is months away.

“I will definitely return to driving,” Melendez said. “My husband is still looking for a job and with the hip-replacement surgery, it’ll be a while before he can actually work, so Ubering is still going to be best for us.”

One obvious major hub for Uber and Lyft usage is Salt Lake City International Airport, which is experiencing a drastic reduction in ridership from those services.

According to figures provided to the Salt Lake Tribune by SLC Airport Director of Communication and Marketing Nancy Volmer, the airport has seen an approximate 85% decrease in Transportation Network Company traffic, or in layman’s terms, Uber and Lyft pickups and dropoffs since early March. What was as many as 3,800 pickups and dropoffs in a day has fallen to a low of about 450.

That decrease has everything to do with how many people are coming and going through the airport every day. During the heart of ski season, airport travel was robust at SLC, with roughly 24,000 passengers passing through in a day. That figure, according to Volmer, would rise to 30,000 on a busy weekend.

With that, SLC is currently hosting only 3,000 passengers per day, with no increase in sight until pandemic fears and social-distancing guidelines subside.