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Uber, Lyft looking for more drivers in SC's hot Myrtle Beach, Charleston tourist markets

Taxi cabs lined up at the Myrtle Beach Airport

Taxi cabs line up at Myrtle Beach International Airport on May 13. Tourists are relying on taxi cabs to pick up the slack as rideshare companies Uber and Lyft struggle to find drivers. Jay Rodriguez/Staff

MYRTLE BEACH — The weakened workforce has taken its toll on rideshare companies Uber and Lyft, and both are stepping up to pay bonuses to lure more drivers as the coastal region buckles down for a busy post-coronavirus tourist season.

Drivers for Uber who average 20 hours per week behind the wheel are now making $32.50 an hour compared to $24.93 an hour at the start of the year in both the Charleston and Myrtle Beach areas. The raise was courtesy of a $250 million driver stimulus package designed to attract new drivers and to lure former Uber drivers back to the company’s platform, said Javi Correoso, a spokesperson for the ride-sharing app.

Lyft said it does not share specific market data. But a driver during a recent mid-week night trip on Lyft said he drove to Myrtle Beach from Atlanta because of the incentive the company was offering.

"We’re seeing big increases in demand for rides, as vaccines roll out and people get ready to start moving again,” Lyft said in a statement. “We’re working to meet demand, including providing incentives to drivers, who are busier and earning more than they were even before the pandemic."

Lyft recently reported at the start of March, rideshare ride volume reached a new record level for 2021 and recorded their biggest week since March 2020.

Though $32.50 an hour may sound like a lot, rideshare drivers are considered independent contractors and must claim earnings on their income taxes for the year. Also, drivers’ driving records and their vehicles are inspected before working for either company.

Correoso said Uber has seen more requests for rides in tourist destinations like Charleston and Myrtle Beach as more people become vaccinated from COVID-19 and travel increases.

Correoso said Uber learned it’s not just the money that will bring those drivers back — safety also plays a major role.

“What we’ve heard from drivers, specifically in some of the tourism-heavy markets in the Southeast U.S., is that some of the drivers tend to skew a little older," he said. "Some of those drivers still don’t feel comfortable returning to drive. Either they haven’t been vaccinated or they still don’t feel comfortable having someone in the car at a close proximity.”

Uber drivers are required to take a picture of themselves wearing a face covering at the start of every shift and riders are required to agree to wearing a mask.

In South Carolina, Lyft reports 20 percent of drivers in South Carolina said they drove more during the pandemic because they were laid off, furloughed, or had their hours or pay cut because of COVID-19.

Higher volume with a smaller workforce is proving to be a struggle for locally run cab companies like Anchor Taxi. Anchor owner Raj Melik said he ran a fleet of 65 cabs in 2005. And now he has eight, and they all don't always go on the road.

"I can't fill up eight drivers," Melik said. "Uber will send people a message that says 'Drivers not available,' so people call us, but I don't have any help. So if I have six calls in 15 minutes, I can't cover six calls."

Melik said he's facing the same battle as many employers with the COVID boost in unemployment benefits.

"Drivers sitting at home are making more money sitting at home than driving," Melik said. "They are not going to come back to work until the end of unemployment."

Correoso said Myrtle Beach pulls drivers from larger markets in the Carolinas to serve the area during high-volume times.

“Historically, during peak weekends and events, we do see drivers come down from nearby markets,” he said. “In the Myrtle Beach market, we do see drivers hop over from Charleston when demand is very high. I anticipate that that will continue to be the case, especially during peak weekends.”

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