Uber and Lyft drivers must now set their own mask-wearing rules

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How is pandemic security Measures have been lifted in the US, taxi drivers risk being deactivated for imposing their own mask-wearing rules.

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Almost two weeks ago Uber and Elevator Removed in-app buttons that allowed US drivers to easily cancel trips if their passengers weren’t wearing masks to protect themselves from Covid-19.

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“This is absolute proof that they care about the workplace,” says Lyft driver Rhonda Gantt.

The change comes after a federal judge in Florida overturned a nationwide mask-wearing mandate in April that applied to many forms of public transportation: trains, planes, buses and taxis. The next day, both companies canceled their own rules for the use of masks. For drivers like Gantt, who says he’s “puffed up” and still wears a mask while driving a Lyft in the Bay Area, the change “adds an extra layer of driving complexity.”

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He’s mostly okay with people without masks in his car as long as they sit in the back with the windows open to allow for more airflow. But when Uber and Lyft changed their mask policy, they also ended the pandemic-era rules that banned passengers from sitting in the front seat and allowed one more person to be taken on each ride. Gant does not want people without masks sitting next to him, especially when it is raining and the windows have to be closed. “It takes a lot more negotiation, a lot more reflection,” he says.

Most of all, Gant feels even less confident about his own car, which is his workplace — a feeling that prompted him to join a driver advocacy group called Gig Workers Rising two years ago. Throughout the pandemic, frontline workers say they have had to deal with angry and frightened members of the public who are divided over whether masks are a vital public health tool or a politicized nuisance. (Science demonstrates what masks and especially N95, KN95 and KF94slow and prevent the transmission of the Covid-19 virus.) Roughly one in 10 riders in the Bay Area attempted to ride without masks, even when the mandate was in effect, Gantt said.

As governments move away from mask-wearing policies, drivers have to make their own rules. Representatives for Uber and Lyft say that any passenger or driver who wants to continue wearing a mask can do so. In an email sent to drivers last week, Uber wrote that masks are still recommended.

In the US, app-based drivers are independent contractors, which means they legally run their own business. In theory, apps simply serve as an intermediary between drivers and passengers.

But drivers must follow the rules of the platforms in order to continue driving for them. These rules include how often they are allowed to cancel trips after they have accepted them. Drivers who have spoken to WIRED say they are concerned they will be fined for canceling a trip for someone who refuses to comply with unauthorized mask-wearing rules. Drivers who unsubscribe too often may be threatened with “deactivation”, meaning they are removed from the platform. The frequency of cancellations also influences where drivers rank in the ranking of company rewards. At Uber, for example, drivers with high ratings and low bounce rates participate in a special program that allows them to see what the fare is going into before they accept it, and this gives them “premium” support — a perk for drivers who say: they struggle to contact freelance companies when they need them.

Both Uber and Lyft say drivers will not be penalized for flight cancellations due to masks. On the Uber app, drivers can choose to “pick up unsafely,” which company spokesman Andrew Husbun said won’t affect overall driver abandonment rates. Gabriela Condarco-Quesada, a spokesperson for Lyft, says drivers should contact the company’s safety team to make sure their health-related cancellations don’t affect their overall cancellation rate. The spokesperson declined to elaborate on how many trips a driver can cancel before being threatened with deactivation.

The changing camouflage policy may have other, more subtle implications for drivers. Their work on the companies’ apps depends on their ratings, which passengers can rate during or at the end of each trip. If a driver’s rating is too low, they may be removed from the app. A few bad ratings from riders who take a different approach to camouflage than their driver can result in a deactivation. It could also “downgrade” drivers in the “black box” algorithms of companies that schedule trips. “If I ask the riders to put on a mask and [they] giving me a bad mark because of this is unfair,” says Gant.

“If drivers don’t have very high customer ratings, Uber’s lack of clarity puts a huge burden on them,” says Shannon Liss-Riordan, a lawyer who has been involved in driver-related litigation and is a candidate. for the Attorney General of Massachusetts. “By doing this, Uber is once again shifting the burden of running this business onto their drivers.”

For some drivers, the change in masking policy has been enlightening. The obligation to wear a mask “created so much friction between passengers and drivers,” says Sergio Avedian, who has worked for taxi apps in Los Angeles since 2016 and writes about his experience on rental guy, a blog dedicated to drivers. The new policy means that many drivers don’t feel the need to follow the rules. But he doesn’t take off his mask – Los Angeles County is one of the few cities in the US where drivers and passengers are still required to wear masks right now. He expects older or immunocompromised drivers across the country to do the same. Or stop driving altogether. “Look, this [virus] not gone yet,” he says. “Is it worth dying for 60 cents a mile? I do not think so”.

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