Rondu Gantt has been working as a driver for Lyft and DoorDash for the past few years in San Francisco, ferrying passengers and deliveries around the city in his Toyota Prius.
More recently, however, rising gas prices have forced him into complex back-of-the-envelope calculations to see whether it even makes financial sense to work. While working for DoorDash, Gantt said he finds himself declining orders more often than ever because they just don’t pencil out.
“I have to think through the terrain, the distance, the traffic and factor that all in,” Gantt said. “For example, driving uphill just wrecks your fuel economy—you go from Superman to Clark Kent, even in a hybrid.”
The price of gas has risen steadily alongside inflation and, more recently, restrictions on Russian oil following the invasion of Ukraine. According to the AAA gas prices map, the average price for a gallon of gas on March 16 in San Francisco was $5.92, higher than the $5.77 statewide average.
In response, DoorDash has followed Lyft and Uber in instituting a “gas rewards” program meant to defray some of the burden of higher fuel costs. Dashers will receive $5 for the first 100 miles they drive in a week, an additional $10 if they drive 175 miles, and a further $15 if they drive 225 miles. The company said the program will at least run through the end of April.
Gantt, who splits his time across platforms, said for him it could take up to a month to do 100 miles of driving in San Francisco, leaving him out of the running for any significant rewards. Last week, Gantt said he earned $358 on DoorDash and spent roughly a quarter of his time delivering food and the rest waiting for deliveries that made financial sense to take on.
“The obvious point is that they are making the process opaque and confusing and offering it to a small number of people who will actually meet the standard,” Gantt said.
In order to take full advantage of the DoorDash program, including 10% cash back on gas purchases, drivers are required to sign up for DasherDirect, a prepaid debit card offered by the company. The move is part of a larger effort by DoorDash and its gig work competitors to expand their suite of financial services for both drivers and merchants.
According to UC Berkeley economist Michael Reich, average mileage and fuel efficiency mean that even with the 10% rebate, “drivers, who barely make minimum wage or less, are bearing half of the increased cost of gas.”
“Drivers would need to use the company’s branded debit card and to drive many more hours just for DoorDash—and less for other companies,” Reich said. “A good deal for DoorDash, a bad deal for its drivers.”
DoorDash’s rewards program contrasts with the approach taken by Lyft, which is adding a $0.55 surcharge to each ride that will be passed along to drivers starting next week. Uber added a driver surcharge of $0.45 or $0.55 for rides and $0.35 or $0.45 for Uber Eats orders last week.
Both Lyft and Uber’s programs are slated to run at least 60 days.
According to a survey of Lyft and Uber drivers conducted by The Rideshare Guy, 53% of drivers are driving less or not at all because of gas prices, including 15% of drivers who have quit driving altogether.
The same pattern is holding true for some food delivery drivers if online complaints are any indication: A recent thread on gas prices on the r/Doordash subreddit features a number of drivers saying they are leaving the service or becoming much more selective in choosing orders because of their costs.
“You have to say no unless there’s enough money to make it work. The pay has not been acceptable for years, but especially now, the pay is financially unfeasible,” Gantt said.
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