Luis Ruiz has nearly 25,000 trips under his belt as a ride-share driver in Las Vegas, mostly in the tourist corridor.
He can speak for hours about the craziness along the way — fights, threatening passengers, nudity and even drug deals.
Lately, he’s noticed another trend: People are waiting longer for rides, a phenomenon that has some Las Vegas visitors annoyed. Ruiz, who has been an Uber driver here for nearly six years, said many riders who get into his vehicle are complaining.
“Sometimes, people are waiting 30 minutes to an hour or longer,” Ruiz said. “Personally, it’s been good for me because there are less drivers to compete with.”
Last weekend, in arguably the best three-day stretch of visitors since Las Vegas shuttered last March because of the pandemic, some passengers reported waiting at least an hour to be picked up by a ride-share driver.
On Twitter, @dmoongirl posted: “PSA: Don’t count on Lyft/Uber to get around if you’re in Vegas. Lately, it’s damn near impossible to get a ride with long waits or literally no cars available. A friend flew in last night and said hundreds of people were stranded at the airport trying to get rides.”
Seattle visitor Chris Franklin was waiting for 18 minutes for his Uber to arrive Monday at the Flamingo, which is “much longer” than normal wait times for a weekday during his previous visits to Las Vegas
“Uber is usually really quick, but not lately,” Franklin said. “I think there’s just a lot less drivers out there right now.”
The shortage can be attributed to a few factors, including drivers opting not to work because they are collecting jobless benefits, and some — still not having fully received the COVID-19 vaccine — are unwilling to put their health at risk to drive.
And perhaps the biggest reason: With millions of Americans receiving vaccinations daily, Las Vegas visitation levels are on the rise. Tourism officials, in fact, project a much-needed busy summer of visitors.
“We are excited to see ridership rebounding in Nevada,” Uber spokeswoman Sarah Ashton wrote in an email to the Sun.
She added that Uber didn't have an official stance on the possibility that unemployment dollars could be providing motivation for drivers to stay home, but she did say that’s a clear topic of discussion on driver message boards.
Asked whether the company would look at providing additional or larger incentives for drivers to get on the road, she said Uber would “continue looking at all options.”
But those options won’t include charging a premium for the service, because Nevada law dictates that a “transportation network company” cannot “charge a fare in excess of the base rate on file on the date of the emergency.”
Since Nevada continues to operate under a state of emergency that went into effect last spring, Uber and other ride-share companies can’t increase prices during peak ride times. The practice in the ride-share business is referred to as “surge pricing.”
The Uber spokeswoman said the inability to raise prices during the state of emergency “inadvertently impacts driver earnings and rider reliability.”
Surge pricing is helpful, the company said, because it “encourages more drivers to serve a busy area over time and shifts rider demand to maintain reliability and restore balance.”
Ruiz said Uber was to blame for its drivers opting to continue collecting unemployment. Drivers are independent contractors, a type of gig worker that qualified last May to start receiving jobless benefits.
“Uber has not compensated its drivers properly,” Ruiz said. “The outcome of that is they’re staying home and collecting unemployment. When Uber came here in 2015, they had a pretty good pay plan, but they did a bait-and-switch. They cut driver pay plans. I think if Uber raised its rates just 25 cents per mile, the problem would basically be solved. … They can afford to do that.”
According to Uber’s website, drivers earn a base fare plus additional payments for how long and how far they drive, basically a combination of time and distance per shift. Per-minute and per-mile rates vary by city, according to the company.
If about $100 in tips are included, Uber says a driver working 40 hours in Las Vegas can make just over $1,000. But because of COVID-19, actual earnings “may greatly differ” from that estimate, it says.
Ruiz, who has one of the highest ratings a driver can record with Uber, said he noticed about six weeks ago that there was beginning to be a strain on the ride-share system in Las Vegas.
Since early February, he said, visitation levels have steadily continued to pick up.
“Before that, it didn’t matter because this place was dead from Monday night until Thursday evening,” Ruiz said.
That wasn't the case Monday.
As the warm afternoon spring sunshine covered the Strip, the line at the ride-share area outside the Flamingo was sometimes as many as 20 people deep. Many waited for their ride in shady areas, though people continued to be picked up.
“Riders are headed to the cab companies more now,” Ruiz said. “Not just in Vegas, but in other cities, too, people are catching cabs again. That’s the dynamic now, and it’s ironic. By Uber not paying drivers enough, they’ve actually enabled their old adversary.”
Lyft, an Uber competitor, did not respond to a request for an interview for this story in time for publication.