Gig drivers now just hanging on

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After driving for Lyft for six years, Joni Bicknese decided to invest in a minivan at the beginning of 2020, reasoning that she could make more money if she could transport more riders. Then came what she calls Nashville’s quadruple-whammy: a tornado, coronavirus closures, protests that rocked downtown, then more closures.

Many drivers opted simply to stay home and try to collect unemployment, something that wasn’t available to them before Congress extended benefits to gig workers in response to the economic chaos brought by the virus. But the $600 per week federal supplement ran out recently, leaving just the maximum weekly unemployment benefit of $275 in Tennessee.

Bicknese says business has gone from dismal to tolerable, but only because so many drivers have voluntarily stayed home. Bicknese chose to keep driving because she didn’t think she could make her car and insurance payments on unemployment. March and April were “devastating, horrible,” she said.

“For four or five weeks it was no income. Then what happened is so many drivers filed for unemployment and stopped driving that demand came back,” she said.

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Samuel Moore is one of those who left the business. The public school teacher was driving part time for extra cash but quit at the beginning of March over concern about the virus.

“I had intended on driving pretty heavy over the summer full time,” he said. “Alas, that didn’t work out.”

Moore had his main job to fall back on, but others drive as their full-time job.

Joy Evans, who moderates a private Facebook group for drivers with more than 2,000 members, said many are worried that the unemployment supplement is ending but demand for rides is still low. Evans estimates that many drivers working full time before the pandemic were probably earning about $60,000 a year. She said they likely won’t be able to get by on just $275 a week.

The pandemic has…

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