Uber And Lyft Drivers Disappear In Duluth, While Taxis Make A Comeback

DULUTH, Minn. — If you’ve tried ordering an Uber or Lyft in Duluth recently, you may have noticed the “few drivers available” warning on the apps.

It’s a national problem Americans are dealing with after the country has reopened for business, and there’s no telling how much longer it’s going to continue.

Some college seniors in Duluth say that when they do try ordering an Uber or Lyft, the wait is usually 45 minutes, and then the driver cancels.

So, to enjoy a night out after a year of restrictions, these women are walking to the bar at night with pepper spray in hand.

“Usually we walk back from the bars and that is five miles from where we are right now, so it’s not always the safest way to get back home,” Avery Helback, a UMD senior, said.

Uber and Lyft driver Jeff Bushnell said the demand is so high, as soon as he turns on one of the apps, it connects him to a rider in seconds.

He adds that he’s met customers who have waited for a ride for up to two hours after landing at the Duluth International Airport.

“The Ubers and Lyfts, there just aren’t enough of us right now,” Bushnell said.

The national worker shortage has hit many industries across the country, with the conversation focusing on the federal unemployment bonus that began during the pandemic.

In Minnesota and Wisconsin, that bonus isn’t expected to expire until September.

“It’s definitely playing a big role, there’s no doubt about it…and not having the need to go out and do Uber and make the extra income in their lives, that’s what’s left us scarce,” Bushnell said.

That means there are less rides for those hitting the bar and restaurant scene again, leaving some people to try rationalizing drunk driving, as some college students have seen with some of their friends.

“Being more risky for sure like, ‘oh I’ve only had like two or three [drinks,]’ but you know they’ve had more, and it’s like, are you sure you’re good to drive, and they’re like ‘oh yeah.” Helbeck said of her conversations with friends. ‘They don’t have any other way to get there. so it’s just like that’s kind their only option but, I don’t know, it’s really dangerous.”

While customers who rely on rideshare services have been suffering from the driver shortage, the taxi industry is making a comeback because of it.

“I’d say we’ve probably doubled our business in the last year,” Kurt Lagarde, co-owner of SK Taxi, said. The business offers cab rides in Duluth and Superior.

Lagarde adds that he plans to double the amount of drivers on staff to more than 40 of them, and the business is even launching an app in July similar to Uber and Lyft.

“I think when the pandemic hit we actually got busier because you get people taking the cabs and not riding public transportation on the buses,” he said. “Now after the pandemic, you know we’re definitely seeing new faces, we’re seeing a lot more groups on weekends going out.”

The problem goes deeper than those needing a safe ride home after a night out. Those in the Twin Ports without their own wheels are having a harder time getting around with the driver shortage, with no end in sight of when this industry will truly get back to normal.

“I’m from Duluth and it’s still, I still get amazed sometimes the demand for people needing rides, whether it’s a DTA bus or an Uber, or a taxi, or a boat, it’s just a very high demand area for people to need rides,” Bushnell said.

Early numbers from the Duluth Police Department show that there hasn’t been a big increase in drunk driving arrests on the roads so far, but the city is expecting the numbers to jump around big summer holidays like the 4th of July and Labor Day weekend.

Uber and Lyft sent similar statements to FOX21, acknowledging the problem and hoping that more drivers will start up again soon.

 

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