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Rideshare drivers feel the pinch of high gas prices

With gas prices in Massachusetts rising to over $4 a gallon, many rideshare drivers have grown concerned that their pay has not kept up.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Lately, Abiye Gelaye has been leaving his less fuel-efficient cars at home. His Toyota Sienna hybrid, which he used to fill up for about $30 a week, is now costing as much as $70 a week to fuel.

Gelaye has driven for Uber since it arrived in Massachusetts in 2011, and he also transports private clients around the city through his own company. The last few years have been hard, with COVID and rising prices, and he was looking forward to a bit of stability.

“Now the gas prices are up, it’s just going to be a disaster,” Gelaye said Tuesday. He has two children, a 4-year-old and a 9-month-old, and all the costs seem to be climbing up and up. “I have to feed my family. I just don’t want to stay home, collect unemployment, or whatever. I’m not that kind of person.”

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As gas prices have risen sharply in the last few weeks, the amount of money ride sharing companies and food delivery services pay their drivers has not kept up, drivers and advocates said.

“I know this thing is going to pass, but those companies don’t care,” Gelaye said. “They just want to collect their money, that’s all.”

Gas prices in Massachusetts have shot up, rising 61 cents in the last week to an all-time high of $4.24 a gallon Tuesday, according to AAA. There is no shortage of oil or gas in the United States, experts say, but the geopolitical turmoil unleashed by Russia’s attack on Ukraine on top of preexisting inflation has sent gas prices soaring. And large oil companies are spending about $38 billion on stock buybacks, according to a Financial Times report last month.

In an informal social media poll this week, one-third of Massachusetts rideshare drivers who responded said they stopped driving altogether because of high gas prices, said Henry De Groot, executive director of Massachusetts Drivers United, who also drives for Uber and Lyft. About 16 percent of drivers who responded to the poll said they are driving more to make up for the increased cost of gas.

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“As ever, these companies don’t take care of their workers,” De Groot said. “And unfortunately it’s on the consumer, through tipping, to make up for that.”

Help from the tech giants who run gig economy platforms has been less than forthcoming, said Beth Griffith, chairperson of the Boston Independent Drivers Guild. One company offered a Tesla rental, which Griffith estimated would come out to about $500 a week after fees and taxes — none of it paid at the pump, but a significant cost nonetheless.

“To me, that’s a slap in the face,” Griffith said. To help drivers, she said, “they could raise their rates immediately. They haven’t done that.”

A spokesperson for DoorDash, the food delivery platform, said drivers can get 2 percent cash back on gas purchases. A spokesperson for Lyft touted a similar program that lets riders earn up to 32 cents a gallon in cash back.

Spokespeople for Uber, Instacart, and Grubhub did not respond to requests seeking comment Tuesday.

“We have a number of programs — especially as it relates to Uber Pro, our best drivers out there — that effectively get discounts on the cost of fuel for our drivers, and we’ll continue to lean into those programs,” Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said Monday, speaking as part of Morgan Stanley’s Technology, Media and Telecom Conference.

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If the cost of gas goes up 20 percent, Khosrowshahi said at the event, and Uber passes the entire cost to consumers though rate hikes, it will likely translate to about a 1 percent increase.

“Compared to price increases that we’ve had, for example, this year versus last year, it’s just not a lot,” Khosrowshahi said.

But the company has not yet increased rates.

“It’s just vulture capitalism at its finest,” Griffith said. “If they have a heart, I don’t see it. But they’re more than welcome to prove that they do.”

About three days ago, when Lyft and Uber driver Neil Nadelman stopped by a Costco in Danvers to fill up his Kia hybrid, gas was $3.57 a gallon, he said. The next day it was up to about $3.78, still lower than the state average.

“Fortunately for me, my car is very efficient, so I’m in a very good position to weather this,” Nadelman said. “It hasn’t hit me hard yet. It’s costing me an extra $10 or $20 a week at this point — it’s annoying but not crippling.”

Nadelman said he takes advantage of gas station loyalty and direct debit programs, and uses GetUpside, an app Lyft partnered with to offer drivers small discounts. But as gas prices have risen, he said, he got an e-mail from GetUpside explaining that gas stations cannot afford to offer the discounts they used to. The prices are going up, and the discounts are shrinking, he said.

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“We really don’t know how high [prices] are going to go, or how this is going to shake out in the end,” Nadelman said.


Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.