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El Paso rideshare drivers struggle during coronavirus pandemic

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El Paso area rideshare drivers say they have minimal guidance when it comes to protecting themselves against the spread of the novel coronavirus. Many have developed their own systems for trying to keep their vehicles safe.

Carlos Calderon, 77, has been an Uber driver for two-and-a-half years. Calderon starts his driving shift at the cell phone waiting area at El Paso International Airport. There, drivers wait their turn to give a ride from the airport.

“I just stay here and I’ll get, they call it a ‘ping,’ from the airport and I’ll go pick them up and take them to their destination,” Calderon said.

Disinfecting, sanitizing vehicles

In between every ride he uses an aerosol spray to disinfect his car. He also wipes the door handles with cleansing wipes and wears a mask if necessary.

Ruben Gutierrez, a driver for Uber and Lyft, regularly disinfects his vehicle to protect against spread of coronavirus. (Elida S. Perez/El Paso Matters)

Uber’s website states, “We are working to provide drivers with disinfectants to help them keep their cars clean. Supplies are very limited, but we’re partnering with manufacturers and distributors to source as much as possible. We’ll be prioritizing distribution to drivers in cities with the greatest need.”

Calderon said he has had to buy his own cleaning products.

Protecting drivers, passengers

Amid the city’s efforts to close and scale back operations of non-essential businesses with its “Stay Home, Work Safe” order, modes of transportation including Lyft and Uber are still able to operate as essential businesses.

Uber has said passengers shouldn’t sit up front. Lyft says its drivers have discretion in whether to honor passenger requests for help with bags and other personal effects.

Lyft’s website recommends that drivers follow the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines that are to keep windows open when possible, increase ventilation and regularly disinfect surfaces.

Both Uber and Lyft have suspended their pooling services that allowed lower fares for people willing to share a ride with others. But the nature of rideshare services means that drivers and passengers can’t follow recommendations to stay six feet from other people in most vehicles.

Leila Blanchard uses both the Lyft and Uber apps to generate income.

Hard to find cleaning supplies

Blanchard said she has not been able to buy the supplies she would like since El Pasoans began “panic buying” products such as cleaning supplies.

“I only have two bottles of hand sanitizer left,” Blanchard said.

To protect herself, she does not allow riders to sit in the front seat. Blanchard said she uses the hand sanitizer in between rides and advises her passengers to wash their hands after they exit the vehicle.

Ruben Gutierrez, who also drives for Uber and Lyft, uses cleaning wipes and aerosol spray to disinfect his car.

“I am worried about getting sick, we all are,” Gutierrez said. “But we are here out of necessity. That’s why cleaning the car is so important.”

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Elida S. Perez

Elida S. Perez is a longtime community and investigative reporter. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities reporter with the Salem, Oregon, Statesman Journal.

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