'I marinated in Fort Lauderdale for 45 minutes': Uber, Lyft shortages leave travelers frustrated and waiting

Danielle DiMartino Booth flew into Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in early May and ordered a ride from Lyft as soon as she landed.

The response: no drivers found. The Dallas executive, CEO of an investment research firm, kept hitting the Lyft app in search of a driver. No response. She started commiserating with a large group of fellow travelers in the steamy rideshare pick up area at the south Florida airport.

"We were all crowded in there, grumbling, mumbling, telling each other our stories: 'How long have you been waiting? How long have you been waiting?' ''

In this Nov. 13, 2020, file photo, a traveler rides in the back of an Uber vehicle at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles.

DiMartino Booth said it took 45 minutes to get a ride to Boca Raton, with the price double the pre-pandemic fare. (She was on a business trip and did not want to expense a luxury car, which had a less of a wait.)

"I marinated in Fort Lauderdale for 45 minutes,'' she said.

It wasn't a one-time delay. Long airport ridesharing waits have greeted her in New York, Phoenix, Orlando and Dallas.

Car rentals aren't the only ground transportation that will be in short supply this summer. Travelers around the country face long waits and higher prices for ride sharing services. Blame a surge in a travel and a shortage of ridesharing drivers.

"The reliability and low prices that travelers are used to paying when it comes to Uber and Lyft are not going to be here this summer,'' said Harry Campbell, a former engineer and rideshare driver who founded The Rideshare Guy blog.

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What Uber and Lyft say

Uber spokeswoman Becky Katz Davis said the driver shortage stems from the "many drivers" who stopped working with the rideshare company in 2020, after people were put on lockdown and businesses were ordered to closed. 

Drivers “couldn’t count on getting enough trips to make it worth their time,” Katz Davis said in an emailed statement. 

Arriving passengers walk to Uber and Lyft vehicles as taxis are lined up to pick up passengers in a separate lane at the LAX-it ride-hail passenger pickup lot at Los Angeles International Airport on Nov. 6, 2019.

Now that vaccinations are available across the U.S. and travel is picking back up, riders are returning at a faster pace than drivers. 

“In 2021, we’ve seen more riders requesting trips than there are drivers available to give them,” Katz Davis. “Holiday weekends are always busier for airport travel and as people start to move again, we anticipate more rider demand to and from airports.”

Uber is working to lure back drivers. In April, the company launched a $250 million driver stimulus to boost driver earnings

Lyft is, too.

"We’re seeing big increases in demand for rides, as vaccines roll out and people start moving again,'' Lyft spokesman Zachary Kizer 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.''

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Campbell said another factor that may be keeping some drivers home: supplemental unemployment benefits added during the pandemic. The bigger payments are starting to end in some states and when that happens he predicts "people will get back to driving.''

Frequent traveler DiMartino Booth, who is an economist, said the supply/demand imbalance for ride sharing services should improve first in states that end the enhanced benefits first, including Florida and Texas.

"Your ability to get a Lyft or an Uber is going to be increasingly dependent on where you are,'' she said.

Don't wait to book airport transportation this summer

Airport executives have been warning travelers not to wait to book trips to and from the airport.

"You may not have as many readily available options to get you to the airport,'' Joel Bacon, American Association of Airport Executives, said during a news conference on summer travel in Washington, D.C. this week.

Airports are also using social media to urge travelers to book ground transportation in advance.

Joe Rajchel, spokesman for Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport, suggested travelers weary of rideshare wait times plan ahead and look into all of the transportation options available at the airport, including taxis, limos and prearranged shuttles. 

“From my understanding other options, such as the taxis, are not experiencing the same level of wait time,” he said. “If they are determined to use a rideshare, the reality is they’re going to have to have some patience.”

In this file photo taken on Aug. 6, 2020, a ride-hailing driver is parked in Los Angeles.

Uber is encouraging riders to consider all options in the Uber app, like Uber Reserve, as it rebuilds its base of drivers. The feature lets riders plan a ride up to 30 minutes in advance and comes with an on-time guarantee, crediting an account with Uber Cash if the ride does not arrive when scheduled. 

The feature is set to roll out in more than 20 U.S. airports this summer.

Lyft's suggestions: scheduling rides up to seven days in advance in cities where it's allowed and using its "wait and save'' option when prices are out of your budget.

DiMartino Booth said she is scheduling as many rides as possible and checking out other alternatives in cities where there are additional options. One company on her list: Blacklane, which responded to a Twitter post about her recent struggles with Lyft.

Campbell offers another option for those heading out on trips if ridesharing prices are too high or availability is a big concern: Parking in an airport or off-airport lot.

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Campbell is an expert and waited 30 minutes for a ride at Los Angeles International Airport a couple weeks ago. He ended up paying $53, compared with about $20 before the pandemic. 

He said travelers this summer might have to resort to old-fashioned airport pick up and drop off methods.

"I actually kind of joke, 'I'm going to have to call my mom,'" he said.  "Really, I think people need to think back to what they did before Uber and Lyft. They got rides from family and friends.''