Taxi, Lyft drivers, Instacart shoppers adapt, work through virus to stay afloat during economic hit

“When this all started going down, a couple of the hotels and resorts were the first ones to kind of pull the plug on performances,” Fargo native Klein said.

That’s when Klein started driving for ride-hailing app Lyft. It was good for some time, but after COVID-19 shut down bars and restaurants, everything started to die off, he said.

“I had to start trying to figure out other means” Klein said.

Klein first tried the Point Pickup mobile app, a delivery platform, but it came with some less than ideal caveats, he said.

Mick Klein shops at Hornbacher’s Friday, April 10, for an online order placed with Instacart. Andrew Peterson / Special to The Forum

Mick Klein shops at Hornbacher’s Friday, April 10, for an online order placed with Instacart. Andrew Peterson / Special to The Forum

Klein gave that up and looked into Instacart, a grocery delivery service.

“I’m one of these weird people that actually enjoys grocery shopping,” he said.

Klein has been with Instacart for almost three weeks now. He grabs items for people, rings them up and then delivers the groceries. The gig involves constant sanitization of his vehicle — cleaning virtually any visible surface that would be touched— and washing of his hands.

Before every order, Klein washes his hands, and while the items are being checked out, he runs to the restroom to wash his hands again. Klein also wears gloves when he delivers the items to the customers, which are most often no-contact deliveries.

“When I have a grocery cart in front of me, it’s really easy to maintain that six-feet distance rule with people,” he said.

The store Klein primarily deals with is Hornbacher’s, which has sanitizer at both entrance doors to spray and wipe down carts. Next to the cart corral near the front entrance, Hornbacher’s also has a hand-washing station with soap and paper towels like “you would typically see at the Red River Valley Fair.”

Hannah Kainz, shops Wednesday, March 18, in the Osgood Hornbacher’s, Fargo, to fulfill an online order placed with Instacart for the customer to pick up in the drive-thru. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Hannah Kainz, shops Wednesday, March 18, in the Osgood Hornbacher’s, Fargo, to fulfill an online order placed with Instacart for the customer to pick up in the drive-thru. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Even with the added safety measures, Klein still has to work to keep his worries at bay.

“If you don’t think for one second that I’m not a little bit anxious in my head knowing that I’m going into public places, you’re wrong,” he said. “I am a little bit anxious about that. I can’t go visit my mother right now because she does fall into that risk category; and she can’t see her grandkids. That just tears me apart inside.”

The income from Instacart has helped the Klein family make ends meet.

“I’m fortunate to have a wife who still is gainfully employed with her job, but we’re used to the income that I was making being a musician and playing gigs on a very regular basis,” Klein said. “But having some money coming in, at least I know that things like groceries, things for our baby are covered.”

Klein is still a Lyft driver, but his driving is very limited right now, he said. On one recent occasion, Klein booted up the app and was told: “It’s slow right now, check back later.”

Klein echoes a struggling transportation industry. Doyle’s Yellow Checker Cab in Fargo knows all too well about the hard hit.

Business has dwindled dramatically for Doyle’s, which is now driving less than half the amount of people it did pre-pandemic.

“We’ve lost about 60% of sales. That’s not fun,” Doyle’s general manager Kerim Nuhbegovic said. “Current operation did change drastically. We’re still learning. We’re adapting to the situation. Hopefully in about three weeks we’ll be standing much, much better.”

About two weeks ago, Doyle’s installed temporary barriers in each cab to prevent any virus spread between passengers and drivers. From the floor to the ceiling, a plastic shield separates the front two seats from the back row of the cab. Drivers are also wearing gloves and masks.

A plastic shield separates the front two seats from the back row in all Doyle’s Yellow Checker Cab taxis. The temporary barrier was installed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 between its passengers and drivers. Photo special to The Forum

A plastic shield separates the front two seats from the back row in all Doyle’s Yellow Checker Cab taxis. The temporary barrier was installed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 between its passengers and drivers. Photo special to The Forum

“We seal them very well but it’s a temporary protection,” he said.

The cab company ordered stronger, plexiglass barriers that will hopefully be installed within two weeks.

“(Plexiglass) is more durable. It’s safer. It’s gonna be more aesthetic and look better as well,” Nuhbegovic said.

The plexiglass barriers aren’t temporary, and will stay up post-pandemic.

“I think this situation is gonna have a long-term psychological impact on people,” he said. “We don’t know what the future brings with this virus, so each cab will have installed barriers moving forward.”

The company has also restricted any in-car payments, which has been a bit of a hurdle. If clients need a ride, they’ll have to prepay for the trip either over the phone or through the Doyle Cab mobile app, which is available on both the Apple iOS App Store and Google Play.

“A lot of our clients are used to paying cash, but we’re not allowing any transactions,” he said. “We don’t want drivers to touch anything that the client has touched or vice versa.”


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