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While Demand Is Returning, A Driver Shortage Is Making It Harder To Get A Rideshare In Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS) -- If you've tried to get a rideshare car lately, you know it's not as easy as it used to be before the pandemic.

As CBS 2's Jim Williams reported Monday night, there is a driver shortage.

We first met rideshare driver Jeanette Finn during the 2019 polar vortex. Finn said on a bitter Wednesday, Jan. 30 of that year, "Downtown, I've never seen this empty."

But at that time, she was still putting in long days behind the wheel. Not anymore.

"I was a Lyft driver for six years," Finn said. "I had over 10,000 rides. Yeah, I was a busy girl."

Since March of last year, it has been her choice not to drive.

Williams: "Tell me why you made that decision, more than a year ago."

Finn: "Fear - honestly and truly, fear."

It was fear of COVID-19, and fear of carjackings – as well as the reality of customers staying at home during the height of the pandemic. Now with the vaccine and warmer weather, many Chicagoans are heading back out. However, rideshare drivers are much harder to find.

"It's as bad as it's ever been," said Shelley Howard. "It's terrible."

Howard is a man about town. He tells us the wait for a ride share car now takes a lot longer - if it arrives at all.

Sometimes the company just cancels the ride.

"Now what do I do?" Howard said. "Do I rebook? Do I go to another service? Or do I give up?"

Uber, acknowledging a driver shortage, put out a "help wanted" message touting greater safety measures - and the potential for drivers to make $30 an hour in Chicago.

DePaul University professor and transportation expert Joe Schwieterman weighed in on the situation.

"Uber's decline has been almost proportionate to public transit, and they've been down likely 60, 70 percent during much of the pandemic," Schwieterman said. "It's coming back now, but they have a big problem that drivers aren't coming back as fast as demand."

And that is forcing Shelley Howard to turn to an old-fashioned way of getting home.

"When I'm on Rush Street, I jump into a cab," he said.

Meanwhile, Finn told Williams that she does see herself going back to driving.

She said perhaps this summer is the time she will resume. Rideshare companies hope she's not alone.

"I miss it terribly," Finn said. "I missed my city."

One other complaint we've heard from ride share customers in Chicago is the enormous spike in fares - double and even triple what they paid before the pandemic.

As to what to expect in the near-term future there, Dr. Hani Mahmassani, director of Northwestern University's Transportation Center, said rideshare prices are likely to remain high for a while.

"We've had a faster recovery in riders than we've had in drivers," Mahmassani said. "To the extent that is going to be happening at a faster rate than drivers are going back in, I suspect we're going to have these prices for some time before they're going to be going down."

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