Why I’m going to keep driving for Uber during the coronavirus pandemic (from a flattening the curve perspective).
I am not a scientist. I have been driving for Uber full time for 5 years, and have a math degree. The math is very simplified and makes a couple of quick assumptions (which make the math easier, but are actually numbers that I don’t have access to, so if an epidemiologist with access to data and the ability to make nice charts wants to improve this, please do).
With all of the articles I’ve read on flattening the curve and social distancing, I started to wonder if driving for Uber was actually making the curve less flat. After all, the nature of my job is to spend prolonged periods of time in confined spaces with people.
So, I started to do some math to see what impact my driving would have. The short answer is that one driver has very little impact, but it is still a positive one from a public health standpoint. The more drivers that are available to spread the demand across, the slower the virus spreads.
Here are a few examples to illustrate how. If you’re an Uber driver who is unsure how your driving affects the coronavirus, I hope this blog post helps.
Let’s say in a given day, 50 people need a total of 100 rides. If there are 5 drivers, that’s 20 rides per driver. I’m going to assume no repeat passengers for any of the drivers, so each driver has 20 passengers in their car in a given day.
If 1 of those people is sick, and gets 2 rides with 2 different drivers, they could potentially infect 2 drivers, who could then potentially infect a total of 38 new passengers (each driver had 20 passengers, 1 already infected, and 19 not infected) That’s potentially 78% of the passengers. (39/50 including the already infected one). If you include the drivers, that’s a total of 41 out of 55 (74.5%)
Using the same numbers with 10 drivers, then each driver interacts with 10 passengers. If the 1 sick person infects 2 drivers, they would potentially infect 19 passengers (9 new passengers each, plus the one already infected), or 38%. Including the drivers, that’s 21 sick out of 60 people, or 35%, which is less than half of the 74.5% above.
Go to 50 drivers, and the sick person infects 2 drivers, who each infect the 1 other passenger they had in their car that day. 2 new infections out of 50 passengers, or 4%. Add in the drivers, and you have 5 sick people out of 100, or just 5%.
In addition, once those 2 drivers are quarantined or sick themselves, if you started with 5 drivers, you’re now down to 3, who each interact with 33 passengers per day. If you started with 10, you’d still have 8, who each interact with 12-13 passengers per day, and if you started with 50, you’d still have 48 who each interact with 2 people.
The more drivers you have to spread the demand across, the flatter the curve gets, which gives more time to have infected drivers recover and get back into the system after recovering and no longer pass the virus onto others.
Ideally, no one would need to use Uber as a passenger until we are clear of the crisis, and all of the Uber passengers would switch over to UberEats (which is much more effective social distancing, since you can leave a note telling your driver to just leave the food on the porch and have zero contact with them), but there are plenty of people who need rides to and from work (and from the grocery store, though grocery delivery exists in many places now for those who can afford it) who don’t drive.
There are obviously other factors to consider in driving for Uber, but continuing to drive actually helps flatten the curve.
The math gets more difficult when you start factoring in other variables, specifically infection rate (percentage of people infected) and spread rate (what percentage of people each infected person spreads the virus to). I assumed a 100% spread rate in this example for ease of math. I also assumed a 2% infection rate in passengers, and a 0% infection rate for drivers to keep the math easier. I don’t know the actual numbers. The infection rate changes daily, and is currently growing exponentially. Slowing that growth down is key, and from that standpoint, I feel very good about continuing to drive for Uber.