Uber sees gradual return of U.S. drivers, modest decrease in wait times

By Tina Bellon

(Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc said on Tuesday drivers were gradually returning to its ride-hailing platform, allowing for a modest decrease in passenger wait times as the company seeks to take advantage of a post-pandemic return in travel demand.

Uber said the week of May 17th marked a new record for drivers returning to the road since the start of 2021, with active driver hours increasing 4.4% from the previous week.

Overall, Uber said 33,000 drivers joined its U.S. platform during the week of May 17th. Most of them had stopped working last year over health concerns and a lack of customers.

Uber declined to say how that number compared to pre-pandemic times, but in California alone Uber reported 209,000 quarterly drivers through the end of 2019.

“With the economy bouncing back, drivers are returning to Uber in force to take advantage of higher earnings opportunities from our driver stimulus while they are still available,” said Carrol Chang, Uber’s head of U.S. and Canada driver operations, in a statement.

Getting drivers on the road quickly is crucial for Uber’s efforts to recoup revenue and achieve its target of adjusted profitability by the end of the year.

The company also faces customers who complain online about long wait times and high booking costs.

Uber has tried to lure drivers back through COVID-19 vaccine partnerships and said in April it would invest $250 million to boost driver earnings and offer payment guarantees.

Including those incentives, median hourly driver earnings in several U.S. cities exceeded $35 before tips, Uber said. The company has urged drivers to take advantage of the incentives before pay drops to pre-COVID-19 levels as more drivers return to the platform.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin; Editing by Richard Chang)